Home to the largest U.S. air base in the region, Qatar now finds itself in conflict with its Gulf neighbors over its refusal to support their efforts to contain Iran—with which it shares the world’s largest natural-gas field—and its continued backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which these countries have turned against. Jonathan Spyer examines the contradictory position in which Doha finds itself:
Qatar’s support for the Sunni political Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood does not make it an automatic fit for Iran, whose main support is among Shiite and minority communities and which promotes its own brand of Shiite political and revolutionary Islam. Common enmity toward Israel formed the basis of the strong relations, built up since the early 1990s, between Tehran and Hamas, which emerged from the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood. But during the Arab Spring, the Brotherhood and Iran found themselves on separate sides, as the former, with Qatari financial aid and media support, sought to establish a rival, Sunni Islamist regional power bloc. This [tension] led, for example, to Iran and Qatar backing different sides in the Syrian civil war.
But now, with the Muslim Brotherhood significantly weakened on the regional level, the Syrian rebellion close to defeat, and Doha facing repercussions from its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries for its support of radicalism, Qatar has been moving over the last eighteen months sharply in the direction of closer relations with Teheran. . . .
Qatar’s regional strategy is based on precarious and contradictory foundations. The emirate suppresses Islamist activity within its own territory, while partnering with Islamist forces elsewhere—not because of a deep or genuine affiliation, but in order to inflate Qatari regional influence.
This approach is now creating major contradictions and problems for Qatar: specifically, as the U.S. seeks to build a regional response to Iranian aggression and hegemonic ambitions, Qatar finds itself in the untenable position of wishing neither to cooperate with the U.S., nor to ally with anti-U.S. regional forces. The contradictions and implausibility of this stance are currently manifesting themselves.