Lost in the North Korea nuclear drama and the fog of partisan war in Washington is the ongoing spat between Doha and Riyadh.
The diplomatic dispute that began in early June made headlines consistently for weeks as the world was reminded that what happens in the Middle East matters – a lot.
The backstory behind the decision by a Saudi-led coalition to isolate Qatar is something of a crash course in Mideast politics, encompassing everything from the Sunni-Shiite proxy wars raging in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq to succession plans in the Saudi royal family to energy policy. Ultimately, this was an effort on Saudi Arabia’s part to cast Qatar as the bad guy when it comes to funding and supporting Sunni extremism, a thinly-veiled attempt to appease the Trump administration by scapegoating Doha while simultaneously punishing Qatar for pursuing an independent foreign policy that includes a more conciliatory approach to relations with Tehran (anathema to the Saudis for obvious reasons).
If you missed all of this, you’re strongly encouraged to review a couple of our posts, including (and especially) the tale of the kidnapped Qatari falconry party, because this is a story that truly has it all. Here are a few good places to start:
- Qatar Cut Off: Everything You Need To Know About Monday’s Mideast Earthquake
- Explaining The $1 Billion Hostage Deal FT Says Triggered Monday’s Qatar Drama
- Mohammed Bin Salman Consolidates Power, Saudi Stocks Soar: “No Question Who’s In Charge”
Well suffice to say this hasn’t been resolved yet despite the “best” (sarcasm alert) efforts of Rex Tillerson and now, the story is back in the headlines. In a testament to how far away we are from any resolution on the three-month-old spat, a phone call meant to open the door to reconciliation ended up exacerbating tensions when the two sides refused to agree on whose idea the call was.
“A statement carried by state-run Saudi Press Agency said Sheikh Tamim initiated the call and ‘expressed his desire’ to discuss the demands of the four countries boycotting Qatar,” Bloomberg notes, adding that “in its version of events, Qatar said U.S. President Donald Trump helped coordinate the chat — a claim dismissed by the Saudis, who suspended talks and sought a clarification.”
In other words, Doha and Riyadh agree that there was a phone call, but that’s about it. Here’s a bit more color from BBC that underscores the absurdity:
The Saudi Press Agency said Qatar’s leader had ‘expressed his desire to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands of the four countries”, and that further details would be announced after Saudi Arabia reached an agreement with Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE.
Meanwhile, the Qatar News Agency said the Saudi crown prince had proposed assigning “two envoys to resolve controversial issues in a way that does not affect the sovereignty of states”.
Shortly afterwards, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of not being “serious” about dialogue, and said communications between the two sides would be suspended.
The row appears to be over protocol – observers say Saudi Arabia is angered that Qatari state media did not make clear that the call was initiated by Doha.
So that was on Friday and Qatari stocks are not happy, falling for a 5th session in a row (the longest losing streak in nearly a month)…
…with the main index sitting at its lowest levels since January of 2016:
On the bright said, it may be time to bargain hunt, as the 14-day RSI has been below 30 since August 29.
If you have any ideas on how to get negotiations up and running again, please contact the appropriate parties in Riyadh and Doha – just make sure you don’t say they called you.