For a moment, it looked like Saudi Arabia might be easing up on its estranged neighbor Qatar. On Aug. 17, King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud Salman, the Saudi monarch, lifted restrictions on Qataris who want to take part in the annual hajj pilgrimage beginning on Aug. 30. The king even offered to fly Qataris to Mecca on Saudi airplanes as his guests. It was the Saudis’ warmest action toward Qatar since June when the kingdom and three of its Arab allies imposed an embargo against the tiny emirate to punish it for allegedly supporting Islamic insurgents.
Qatar’s 37-year-old emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, has survived his frenemies’ initial siege and is riding a surge in domestic nationalism as Qataris dig in for a long standoff. Panic buying in grocery stores, driven by whispered fears of a coup or invasion, made headlines early on. Neither materialized, giving Sheikh Tamim time to cement friendships in the West with big-ticket purchases of U.S. military jets, Italian naval ships, and the contract of Brazilian superstar Neymar, the world’s most expensive soccer player, which was acquired on Aug. 2 by the Qatari-owned club Paris Saint-Germain. Qatar even flirted with buying a stake in American Airlines Inc.
Qatar’s relations with Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Egypt cratered after the Arab Spring when the Saudi bloc accused Qatar of destabilizing the region through its support of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sheikh Tamim has blamed the Saudi bloc for exaggerating terrorism concerns to justify their own repression. “The problem we’re facing is counterrevolution,” he told an interviewer at Georgetown University two years ago in one of his few public comments about the failure of the Arab Spring. “We believe that the entire world, including our region, suffers from problems such as poverty, tyranny, and occupation. This suffering, which is one of the most important root causes of terrorism, also needs to be addressed.”
Source Credit: Bloomberg
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