U.S. relations with the monarchies of the Persian Gulf are complicated enough, but now three of them — Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, joined by Egypt, another Sunni Muslim nation — have fallen out with Qatar, probably the most progressive of the group now that Egypt is under military rule.
The United States has close military relations with all five nations and important bases in four of them, including the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, a nation troubled by stormy relations between its Sunni rulers and its Shiite-majority population.
Qatar, an emirate with 2 million people and a gross domestic product of $182 billion, has taken a relatively progressive and active approach to joining the modern world. For 18 years it has paid the bills and taken the heat from other Arab states for the television news outlet al-Jazeera, which provides reasonably balanced coverage of events in the Middle East and has expanded its reach to U.S. viewers, including the Pittsburgh cable market. Qatar is also home, in Doha, to a branch campus of Carnegie Mellon University.
Qatar provided funding and military aid to Libyan rebels who — with U.S., British and French help — overthrew Moammar Gadhafi, another Sunni dictator, in 2011. What appears to have been the final straw for Qatar’s nervous fellow Sunni rulers was its support of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in that country. He was elected in 2012, overthrown the next year in a military coup and put in jail. Qatar had joined with its other Persian Gulf Sunni states in supporting — unsuccessfully — Syrian rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Assad. It has also maintained decent ties with Shiite Iran, which the others fear.
Life will become more difficult for Qatar and its ruler, Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 33, now that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have declared them to have departed from the hallowed way. Life in the Middle East will also become more complicated for the United States, in seeking to maintain its bases. It cannot abandon Qatar, and yet it will need to maintain good relations with the other gulf monarchs. It will not be an easy row to hoe.