Qatar-Saudi patch-up bad for Arab Spring?

July 25, 2011 at 3:37 PM
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DOHA, Qatar, July 25 (UPI) -- Signs of deepening ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia after a decade of differences could mean trouble for the Arab Spring and media freedom in the region, the Foreign Policy Web site said.

An analysis by United Arab Emirates columnist and microblogger Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi on the Web site sets out to explain "How Saudi Arabia and Qatar became friends again -- and why their rapprochement could mean an early end for the Arab Spring."

The roller-coaster-like diplomatic relations between the two energy-rich neighbors dates to 1992 when a border clash caused the death of two guards. Relations went downhill from there.

Several incidents marked increasing tensions between the neighbors, some of them caused by Saudi ire over al-Jazeera's airing of television programs that offended Riyadh.

However, in subsequent contacts Qatari overtures managed to calm the Saudis and relations improved further after al-Jazeera was ordered "not to tackle any Saudi issue without referring to the higher management," Qassemi said, citing e-mail sent by an al-Jazeera employee to The New York Times.

Recent rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar led to the Qatar television channel softening its media coverage of Saudi political developments, in particular those concerning Saudi dissidents, Qassemi said.

Qatari and Saudi ties are growing warmer, he said. For instance, in the past few weeks, Qatar Airways has been allowed to operate a lot more flights to Saudi Arabia -- from 35 to 60 per week.

In September, a delegation of 100 Saudi businessmen will visit Qatar to discuss joint business opportunities, including the establishment of a Saudi-Qatari bank and joint industrial zone.

Al-Jazeera, long-banned in the kingdom, has also been given the green light to set up a Saudi bureau.

The friendly relations are likely to continue at least till 2022 when Doha will play host to the FIFA World Cup, for which it has earmarked $65 billion-$100 billion and invested considerable political capital, Qassemi said.

"For the tournament to go as smoothly as possible, a pragmatic Qatar will need the full cooperation of its largest and only land neighbor," he said.

Saudi firms are likely to be awarded lucrative infrastructure contracts or supply essential raw materials to Qatar over the coming decade before the World Cup.

"We will likely see Doha's freewheeling foreign policy stay within the bounds of Riyadh's interests," Qassemi said.

"Above all, Qatar will spare no effort to make certain that nothing stands in the way of its global coming-out party."

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