Analysis - Why Qatar Punishment Continues

The 48-hour extension for Qatar to cave to the huge demands of other Arab states has passed, and, hardly surprisingly, Qatar has refused to surrender. It would indeed have been impossible for Qatar to have met the terms, which raises an important question - why would the Arab states make demands that they knew were impossible for Qatar to fulfill?

The answer is that the entire crisis has been designed to be a very public punishment of Qatar.

Punishment of Qatar for attempting to forge its own path in the current tumult in the Middle-East, and for refusing to distance itself from Iran and the region's Islamists.

Punishment to be used as a platform to highlight the new Middle-East - as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and its allies see it - making a global statement that the Arab world are actively united against the dramatic threats they perceive Iran, and separately ISIS/IS/Daesh, to be.

Qatar has managed over the last decade to gain remarkable prominence on the international stage considering its tiny size - it used its gas wealth to become a truly global economic force and a powerful player in Arab and Islamic politics, successfully bid for the FIFA World Cup, and reached millions globally through the al Jazeera broadcast and news platforms and its high-profile national airline.

All the while Qatar sought to attain an 'Everyone's Friend' status: to become not just a key regional go-between, but the state you can't achieve regional political and economic objectives without. This 'strategic neutrality' has until recently worked very well, allowing Qatar to maintain relations and influence from the Gaza Strip to Iran to the Taliban in Afghanistan - but as the region has been dramatically redefined by the Arab Spring and the emergence of ISIS/IS/Daesh this stance is now seen as a threat to other Arab states.

You can't be neutral anymore in the new Middle-East, you have to take sides - or so Saudi Arabia and its allies now demand.

Driving this are two conflicts - firstly, and most importantly, a Sunni-Shia rivalry, defined by Arab Sunnis at odds with the Shiites running Iran and their allies; Secondly the battle for who represents the Sunnis in this rivalry - will it be the pragmatic, Western-orientated governments, or the Islamist and Jihadist extremist?

Both Iran and ISIS/IS/Daesh are seen (though in very different ways) as waging war on the prevailing regional status-quo, and thus represent immediate existential threats to the region's existing Arab states. The 'neutrality' of Qatar - itself a Sunni Arab state - is thus seen as a rejection of the true reality, and so other Sunni Arab states have decided to force Qatar's hand.

So the public justification for the demands upon Qatar have focused on insisting on change in these two areas - the connection with Iran (and Shiites in the region that Iran supports), and any political and financial links with key Islamists. (However hypoctritical this may be -

Accusations that Qatar has turned a blind eye to the financing of ISIS/IS/Daesh are hardly new, an issue that has been frustrating the US and Gulf Arab states for years. Back in October 2015 US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism + Financial Intelligence David Cohen publicly singled out Qatar as a “permissive jurisdiction” for terrorist financing that directly and significantly helps fund ISIS/IS/Daesh.

But the demand for Qatar to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas is as noteworthy. In the past there was no issue with support for Hamas, for example, because they were fighting Israel, the default Arab enemy. But today priorities have changed - in this new Sunni v Shia reality, Hamas' self-designation as Islamists pursuing Jihad places them in the enemy camp, especially for Egypt, the host of today's meeting of the Arab states isolating Qatar.

There are also more subtle, and far more cynical, agendas at play - the demand for Qatar to close-down al Jazeera is an attempt to stifle the 'informational democracy' that played such a role in the Arab Spring, as these Arab states attempt to consign protests to the past and solidify their own (very undemocratic) domestic socio-political status-quo. This demand is purely about censorship, not counter-terrorism.

The punishment of Qatar will increase in coming days, weeks and months - with Trump's decision to be 'hands-off' in the region, combined with the ever-growing fear of Iran and the jihadists dominating regional politics, Qatar will for now be the sacrificial lamb.

It is a statement of intent and a warning to all the Arab world - no longer will profiting by navigating a middle ground be tolerated, its time to choose sides once and for all.

The Arab states isolating Qatar are thus championing the old adage 'Stand in the middle of the road, and you will get run over' !