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Erick Viramontes

Attack on Qatar is the latest offensive of the Gulf's reactionary coalition

'The attack on Qatar is an attempt to maintain the postcolonial (dis)order in the region'[AFP]

Date of publication: 20 June, 2017

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Comment: Since the beginning of Qatar's increasing regional activism, reactionary powers have been keen to get rid of such a 'disruptive element' in the region, writes Erick Viramontes.

Despite the insistence of the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that it is part of their efforts to combat terrorism, the recent move against Qatar is but the latest offensive by a reactionary coalition that has been taking shape since the Arab Spring.

The main goal of this offensive, which comes at the beginning of a new chapter in US-Saudi relations, is to eliminate a platform for the spread of critical discourses on Middle Eastern modernity and for the articulation of their projects of "radical politics".

Put simply, what lies behind the recent blockade against Qatar is an attempt to maintain the postcolonial (dis)order in the Middle East.

Following the thinking of Latin American philosopher Walter Mignolo, modernity in the colonial world cannot exist without its darker side, or what he calls, "coloniality".

In the Middle East, the binary modernity/coloniality has, through the violent emergence of a system of nation-states, produced massive human displacement throughout the region, confining thousands of people to the status of permanent refugees and provoking civil war and instability.

Furthermore, the insertion of the Middle East, as with much of the global South, into the international division of labour as a source of natural resources has reproduced a subordinated relation with the developed centre, whose interest in providing "stability" is to ensure the continued flow of such goods.

All of this has been justified under the imported euphemism of "war against terror and extremism"

Put simply, as a legacy of colonialism, the postcolonial (dis)order is a defining feature of Middle Eastern modernity.

The minority that has temporarily benefited from the postcolonial (dis)order in the Middle East has always been keen to maintain the status quo by any means necessary.

This has been especially so since 2011, when the regional uncertainty sparked by the Arab Spring saw the formation of coalition of reactionary forces spearheaded by the ruling elites of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

One of the primary goals of this reactionary coalition has been to prevent the spread of critical discourses on Middle Eastern modernity, such as Arab nationalism and Islamism, and to thwart the articulation of their "radical" political programmes.

To achieve this goal, the reactionary coalition has intervened militarily in neighbouring countries, and suppressed numerous sources of political dissent, all of which has been justified under the imported euphemism of "war against terror and extremism".

During the last two decades, some of the most disruptive developments to the postcolonial (dis)order in the Middle East have come from an uncanny place - the state of Qatar.

After the coming to power of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani in 1995, Qatar began a new era in its short history as an independent state that saw its regional status skyrocket.

Qatar began constructing a bridge between the Arab world and the revolutionary project of the Islamic Republic of Iran

In parallel to the exploitation of its huge natural gas reserves (the third largest in the world), the government launched several initiatives, such as the Al Jazeera TV channel, supporting political opposition groups such as Hamas in Palestine, Hizballah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

It began constructing a bridge between the Arab world and the revolutionary project of the Islamic Republic of Iran, with whom it shares the largest non-associated natural gas field in the world.

One thing must be emphasized: Qatar's model of governance and development, whose horizon of transformation is enclosed by the narrow confines of neoliberalism and electoral democracy, is not backed by any critical reading of modernity, and therefore does not offer an alternative to the postcolonial trap.

Read more: The siege of Doha

However, all of the aforementioned initiatives provide a platform for the spread of critical discourses on Middle Eastern modernity, and created a space for the articulation of their programmes of "radical" politics.

Since the beginning of Qatar's increasing regional activism, reactionary powers have been keen on getting rid of such a disruptive element in the postcolonial (dis)order of the region.

In this sense, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates condemned Hamad's coup against his father, and were reluctant to recognise Qatar's new government. It has been alleged that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi even sponsored a failed counter-coup against Hamad in February 1996.

Later, in an effort to influence Al-Jazeera's coverage of Saudi domestic politics and its regional policies, Riyadh withdrew its Ambassador to Qatar in 2002, who was not restored for several years.

The offensive against Qatar, which was further aggravated by the Arab Spring, led to the withdrawal of Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati Ambassadors after Doha's opposition to the 2013 military coup in Egypt against the elected government of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thus, the most recent diplomatic crisis in the Gulf - in which the governments of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen, have cut ties with Qatar - is but a continuation of a longstanding dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council.

In an effort to finish the pending business of 2014, the reactionary coalition in the Middle East has gone further this time, closing Qatar's land and sea borders in the Arabian Peninsula, banning flights in and out of the country, orchestrating an aggressive defamatory campaign through their media outlooks, expelling Qatari citizens from neighbouring countries and criminalising any internal show of support for Qatar.

The most recent diplomatic crisis in the Gulf is but a continuation of a longstanding dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council

The welcoming of the current US President to Saudi Arabia by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, was the event that made possible the latest offensive of the reactionary coalition.

In his first visit to a foreign country as President, Donald Trump met with the heads of states of more than 50 Muslim countries in Riyadh on 20 May 2017. On that occasion, Trump took the opportunity to praise Arab efforts to "combat extremist ideologies and radicalisation," which was read by some of his interlocutors, especially the aspiring king of Saudi Arabia, Muhammad bin Salman, as a green-light for their reactionary policies.

This new phase of the deployment of reactionary policies in the Middle East, which has at its background a renewed and strengthened relation between The White House and Saudi ruling elite, has begun by turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into an internally-coherent block through shutting down internal dissent.

Doha's position in this situation was initially weakened by Trump's endorsement of the reactionary coalition through a series of tweets a couple of weeks after his visit to Saudi Arabia.

However, a few days later, Qatar's position was strengthened by the backing of dissenting voices within the US government, the decision of Turkey's parliament to deploy troops in Qatar and the solidarity of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although it might be too early to say, current alignments in the region could lead this time to a failure of reactionary attempts to "combat terrorism and extremism". If that is the case, the Arab world will keep an important, but still conservative, platform for the spread of critical discourses and a space for the articulation of their programmes of radical political activism.

Erick Viramontes is a Ph.D. student of politics and international relations at the Australian National University, where he works on a research project at the intersection of the field of postcolonial studies and the state-led nationalist initiatives in contemporary Qatar.

Follow him on Twitter: @e_viramontes

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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