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The Scoop
March 19, 2012

Saudi Arabia and Qatar: unlikely candidates for intervention

by
Houriya Ahmed

The Assad regime has been blaming bomb attacks in Syria over the past year on al-Qaeda and the Opposition, painting a false picture of those opposing the regime are nothing but terrorists. Now, with the latest bomb attacks in the capital Damascus and in the city of Aleppo, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are also to blame.

Syrian state newspapers blamed the attacks on “terrorists supported by foreign powers which finance and arm them” and that the attacks were intended to “disrupt [Kofi] Annan’s mission and foil international efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.” Saudi Arabia and Qatar were named as being responsible in at least one state newspaper.

The statement is slightly ironic, given that it has been Saudi Arabia and Qatar being the main Arab powers who have been trying to find a political solution to the crisis. While both Gulf countries have been vocal in their criticisms of the Assad regime since it started mercilessly killing peaceful protesters calling for reforms in Syria, they have implored President Bashar al-Assad to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

To this effect, both have lobbied the United Nations and Arab League to help convince Assad to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Even as late as January 2012, the daughter of the Emir of Qatar implored Assad’s wife by private email communication, to convince her husband to step down and leave the country in exile, offering Doha as one place where they could settle down. She, as expected, seems to have received no reply.

If the visit of Kofi Annan—appointed by the UN and Arab League as the special representative to Syria—is anything to go by, it is obvious that Assad isn’t interested in finding a political solution or stepping down.  In what has been clear for almost a year now, Assad isn’t interested in anything but brutally killing Syrian dissenters.

Both Gulf countries have also realised this for some while now: they have closed their embassies in Damascus and have stated that arming the opposition is completely justified as a measure of self-defence. Qatar is suspected of being behind Libya’s $100million offer to the Syrian opposition, and according to one unnamed Arab diplomat, Saudi Arabia is now reportedly smuggling arms to the Syrian rebels. In response, the Syrian Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are backing “armed terrorist gangs” and have accused both countries of being “accomplices to the terrorism targeting the Syrian people”. A bit ironic coming from a Syrian official, but Assad is clearly bothered by the two countries.

Having once described Assad as a young man committed to “big change”, the Emir of Qatar must be sorely disappointed. And yet Qatar, along with Saudi Arabia, is now a proponent of regime change in Syria and some form of armed intervention. Both may also have selfish reasons to support the rebels and advocate regime change. They share a common interest in isolating Iran, and making sure that if any country has influence over the rebels it would be the powers in the Gulf. For Saudi Arabia, it may also be that by showing concern by the massacre in Syria, the ruling monarchy can partly deflect attention away from its own internal problems as dissent in the Kingdom continues to be crushed, especially Shia dissent in the east of the country. For Qatar, voicing condemnation of Assad and supporting the rebels adds to its growing portfolio of supporting pro-democracy reform in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in light of its successful role in Libya. As such, leading the charge for regime change and supporting the rebels in Syria can only help Qatar advance as a major and indispensable player in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, while both are unlikely candidates of advocating some form of intervention, they have shown leadership where the United States has failed.

Houriya Ahmed

About Houriya Ahmed

Houriya Ahmed is a Non-Resident Associate Fellow at the HJS.

Full profile  |  See all of Houriya Ahmed's work