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Mason's Mohammed Cherkaoui explains Qatar's conflict with its neighbors

June 21, 2017

Because of the conflict between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors, George Mason University professor Mohammed Cherkaoui has been in demand by media outlets in the United States and abroad. Cherkaoui, a professor of conflict narrative at George Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, has extensively studied and written about Middle Eastern media, politics and society. Here, he explains factors fueling the conflict.

Q. What was the reasoning behind the nine Middle East countries imposing restrictions on Qatar?

Cherkaoui: There have been several anti-Qatar narratives, which showcase a tendency toward dominant groupthink among most Gulf nations in seeking a “unified” approach, vis-à-vis Tehran. Qatar remained skeptical about the purpose of further demonizing Iran.

The latent factor is the pursuit of undermining an underdog country whose public diplomacy—through Al Jazeera, the Brookings Qatar and other institutions—has outperformed that of other Gulf-rich nations. Since 1996, Al Jazeera’s discourse has been critical of certain U.S. foreign policy decisions in the Middle East.

Q. The United States confirmed $12 billion in arms sales to Qatar, weeks after announcing a $110 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Is there an intention we are not aware of?

Cherkaoui: The simple logic is that the Trump administration should not sell arms and F-15s to a country that is supposedly “supporting terrorist organizations.” Trump came back from Riyadh in May with a $400 billion Gulf investment package in the U.S. in addition to the new arms deals. The $12 billion with Qatar has turned out to be a new tool of managing the U.S.-Qatari rift after Trump decided to put his finger on the scale in favor of the Saudi embargo against Qatar.

Q. Trump has said his visit to Saudi Arabia inspired the Qatar action. Could taking credit backfire on him?

Cherkaoui: There have been some chronic differences between Gulf leaders since the so-called Arab Spring in 2011. However, Trump’s visit to Riyadh has been the trigger event of the conflict by solidifying the anti-terror discourse worldwide. It is a matter of judgment whether to call it a Trump factor or a Trump curse. But the F-15 deal with Qatar had been planned earlier.

In short, Trump has experimented with the Gulf nations for his new chapter in international relations: determinism of economic interests in serving his “America First” worldview.

Mohammed Cherkaoui can be reached at 202-486-2838 or mcherkao@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.