(Q) Saudi Arabia is the first country to congratulate Egypt’s military rulers. They and their GCC followers have already announced $8 billion to the new regime in Cairo. More will follow. Why are the Saudis pleased with Morsi’s ouster?
(A) Saudi King Abdullah was livid when he returned from hospital in Europe in February 2011 and saw allies like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia toppled. Monarchies and Sheikhdoms are uncomfortable with Peoples Power. For them military dictatorships mean stability. Hence Saudi relief.
Also, Saudis hate Muslim Brotherhood which aims to replace Monarchies and dictatorship with popular Islamists regimes.
(Q) But Qatar, the second richest Kingdom in the region, had invested in President Mohammad Morsi and the Brothers. Does the Egyptian coup d’état spell the end of the Saudi – Qatari co ordination in the region?
(A) They had come together on Egypt; they are parting on Egypt. Earlier, there were rivalries between the two regimes. They came together to thwart the “Arab Spring” which having consumed Egypt’s Mubarak, began to threaten monarchies in the region – Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Bahrain, GCC, Saud, Qatar.
But they differed on how to proceed, now that the “Spring” had been stalled.
While the Saudis were weighed down by their own internal succession stakes, the Qataris were knitting linkages with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Turkey, Hamas in Gaza. Saudis could not have been happy with Qatar punching above its weight and according hospitality to the Brothers who are anathema to Riyadh.
(Q) But the Americans were with Morsi and the Brothers. During demonstrations leading to Morsi’s ouster, people burnt effigies of Barack Obama and US ambassador Anne Patterson. Are the Saudis and the Americans at cross purposes?
(A) Between American and Saudi diplomatic choreography the “hidden” is often more important than the “apparent”. American effigies being burnt in Cairo by anti-Morsi crowds shows the American hand is still in the hand of the Brothers. But Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel talking to coup leader Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sissi on the phone, points to exactly the opposite. Heads I win, tails you lose. Don’t forget, Americans have lived with Egypt’s army for 50 years. That’s the important equation. So don’t worry, Americans and the Saudis are in bed under the same sheet.
(Q) The army and the Brothers are the two organized formations in Egypt. In an extreme situation which one will the Americans choose?
(A) Obviously the Americans would not like to alienate the most powerful Arab Army. They would like to keep the army together. But they would like to scatter the Brothers, divide them.
They have been caught flat footed, not for the first time in recent past.
They placed all their eggs apparently in the Brotherhood basket. They will now pick out their eggs one by one. They are already hedging their bets. Washington has applauded the “roadmap” towards democracy in seven months. They have avoided describing Morsi’s ouster as a coup, so aid can continue to flow to the army.
(Q) What should India do?
(A) Support the enlightened Egyptian. Remember, in the latest round Egyptian civilization, its culture has clashed with political Islam. The army has helped the former. India should strengthen modernist tendencies. Go now where the Americans will go tomorrow. In fact, they’re already there, silly. They have to fly under the radar at the moment because Brothers in Turkey have to be managed.
(Q) But the Saudis are an obscurantist, Wahabi state. Why would they support modernism and democracy in Egypt?
(A) They are not supporting modernism. They are keeping the Muslim Brothers out because they, the Brothers, are a threat. They want the army to stay as a stabilizing force.
(Q) What are the implications of Qatar and Saudi Arabia proceeding on separate paths post the Egyptian coup?
(A) First, consider Al Jazeera TV as a Qatari asset in the Saudi, Western kitty.
When the US occupied Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, Al Jazeera exposed the BBC and CNN propaganda by reporting independently. Its offices in Kabul and Baghdad were bombed by the allies who included Saudi Arabia. Its reputation for independence skyrocketed.
But when the Arab Spring threatened to topple the monarchies, Qataris were persuaded to pool in their Al Jazeera resource to supplement the bruised credibility of the CNN and BBC. Al Jazeera came in handy in the Libyan and Syrian expeditions. Now that the foreign supported civil war in Syria is beginning to sour, the uses of Al Jazeera are also diminishing.
In Cairo, Al Jazeera was running for cover, booted out of their offices.
When Al Jazeera was riding high, former US Vice President Al Gore sought to merge his Current TV channel with Al Jazeera which would have a projected viewership of 50 million in the US.
(Q) If the Saudis are now opposed to Qatar. Will they allow Qatar to have such a powerful toehold in the US?
(A) The Saudi-Qatari rivalry should not be taken as a fight to the finish.
Saudi-US relations are almost as secure as US-Israel relations. Recently, Qataris have been playing a regional role, encouraged by the US – in Syria, Turkey, Hamas, Egypt, Libya, even Afghanistan. They may have over reached themselves with Taliban much to Saudi annoyance.
It must not be forgotten, that Qatar is the headquarters of the US operational command in the region – CENTCOM.
Recently, Qatar’s Emir, at the age of 60, handed over power to his son Tamim al Thani who is only 33. It is not a simple transition in the Emir’s palace. The world’s most powerful military command would have to be involved. Who knows the transition in Qatar may bring the Sheikhdom in line with Riyadh where the emergence of a new King is awaited.
Regional realignments do relieve the pressure on Bashar al Assad.
These very re alignments mount the pressure on Turkey where Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has burnt his fingers trying to topple Assad in neighbouring Syria. He has nothing to show for his efforts, except an unsettled Turkey.
And, for the conservative Arab regimes, Israel and the West, there is one galling spectacle. While the Arabs are in a mess, the most successful democratic elections have brought President Hassan Rouhani to power in Iran.
(Saeed Naqvi is a senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)