Religion and politics in the feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar

Are the strained relations between Qatar, Iran and Turkey on one side and the Saudis, Bahrain, the Emirates and Egypt on the other leading to head-on war?

Dr. Mordechai Kedar,

Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
Eliran Aharon

Since the advent of the French Revolution, Western culture has aspired to separate church and state, believing that religion deals with the status of man– the individual and the community – and God, while politics deals with administering the lives of the public, those who believe in various religions as well as atheists who believe in none.  One result of religion's removal from the political sphere was that a Jew (Leon Bloom in France, Benjamin Disraeli in Britain) could become prime minister if he was considered worthy of the role.

The Middle East, however, is a totally different reality. Religion in the Middle East is an inseparable part of politics, and is often the main actor in political situations. That is how we have a political party called Hez b' allah -  (God's party),  war is called Jihad (a war commanded by the Koran) and a country can be called an Islamic Republic (Iran).  Most of the Constitutions of Middle Eastern countries state clearly that Islam is the basis of their systems of law. The rule in the Middle East is that "Religion and state are twins" – Din wa-Dawla Tawaman - born at the same time and living together in harmony.  

Often rulers, especially those whose legitimacy is questioned by their subjects, try to obtain religious approval for their regimes.  I dedicated an entire chapter to the public efforts of Syrian monarch Assad aimed at his being considered a bona fide Islamic ruler, although he is an Allawite. Being an Allawite means he is viewed an idol worshiper and therefore, someone who not only usurped the throne but deserves to be killed as a heretic.  He should, by all accounts, be forced to make the choice between converting to Islam or being killed.

The King of Jordan used his own funds to cover the Dome of the Rock with gold leaf in order to achieve legitimacy for his monarchy and make up for the fact that his grandfather Abdullah was brought in by the British to rule the Trans-Jordan Emirates. 

Egypt's President Sadat prayed at the Al Aqsa Mosque on his first visit to Israel in November 1977 in order to grant his visit, vehemently opposed by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, a religious stamp of approval

Saudi Arabia is also the product of mixing religion and politics. The Royal House of Saud is closely connected to the Ben Baz and Al Shaykh families, scions of Islamic scholars whose responsibility it is to grant a religious stamp of approval to the House of Saud's monarchic ambitions, its rule over the kingdom, its citizens and economy. This is not a simple thing to accomplish, since the family's members hail from Ramat Najd in Central Saudi Arabia and are seen as foreigners everywhere, especially in HIjaz in the western part of the peninsula.

The Saudi kings call themselves "Servants of the Holy Places", the term holy places referring to Mecca and Medina. This title is meant to grant their rule over Hijaz an Islamic religious seal of approval and to give it meaning, to cement this, they invest billions of petro dollars in improving the infrastructure of these cities: roads, bridges, railways and accommodations for those coming to the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

The Saudi government has a Hajj Minister and its investment in Mecca and Medina is especially obvious in comparison to the terrible state of neglect in which the other cities  find themselves, Most noticeable is the city of Jedda which lost over  a hundred residents to flooding brought on by heavy rains.

The title "Servant of the Holy Places" is most important in the royal family's eyes. They sign their letters with it, mention it over and over in public speeches. But things are not at all simple, and there are those, led by Shiite Iran, who question the right of the Saud family to control the places holy to all Muslims. The Shiites claim that the Sunni house of  Omayad, , stole the rulership over Islam from them in the middle of  the 7th century and must return it to Ahl al-beit  - the family of Mohammed – that is, the house of Ali ben Avi Talab, Mohammed's son-in-law and cousin and on to their children forevermore.

The Iranian-Shiite demand to  gain control in Mecca and Medina infuriates the Saudis because they see the world through the lenses of the Hannibalic school and its Wahhabi branch which considers Shiism a form of heresy, no more and no less. That is why every time Iranian pilgrims attempt to worship in accordance with their Shiite beliefs at the Hajj, the Saudi security forces in charge of maintaining the public order during the Hajj treat them  with brutality, using truncheons and rifles, leaving dead and wounded in their wake.

Internationalizing the holy places

Seven months ago, in June 2017, relations between Qatar and the Saudis, Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt deteriorated to a new low.  Qatar's relations with the rest of the Arab world have been tense since the day in 1996 when al Jazeera began its satellite broadcasts, spouting anti-establishment propaganda  supporting the Muslim  Brotherhood and its offshoots such as the Egypt-based 'Jihad,' Tunisian 'al-Nahda,'  Palestinian Hamas and 'Islamic Jihad.'

The sanctions placed on Qatar by the Saudis and their allies are still in place, with Qatar surviving only because of the help of powerful nations – headed by Turkey and Iran – who protect its interests. Iran has been sharing a gigantic gas field with Qatar, providing the small country with all its needs after the Saudis blockaded the country. Turkey has sent armed forces to Qatar to protect the country from a possible Saudi invasion.

Qatar has taken out its rage at the Saudis via al Jazeera – the most-watched channel in the Arab world, a veritable magnet for Arab viewers – attacking the Emirates and Saudis in every possible way.

Over the last few days, Qatar has brought the conflict with the Saudis to new heights, touching the raw nerve of Saudi control in Mecca and Medina by suggesting the cities become internationalized Islamic sites. If this occurs, the Saudi monarch will not be able to use the title "Servant of the Holy Places," will cease to gain legitimacy  from that title. Internationalizig Mecca and Media will give every Arab nation the right to express its opinion on how those sites are run and Shiite Iran and Sunni Qatar, now staunch allies, will have influence on decisions about Islam's holiest sites to the detriment of the House of Saud and despite their fury.

The internationalization idea for Mecca and Medina has greatly disturbed Saudi tranquility.

Saud Qahtani, advisor the Saudi ruler, tweeted (my additions in parentheses, M.K.) : "the cells run by Azmi (Bashara, former Israeli MK, a Christian who is an al Jazeera commentator and is pro-Arab nationalism rather than Islamism) and the shadow government of the arrogant Qataris on al Jazeera, are pushing what they call the internationalism of the two holy sites! My personal advice as a citizen of the Gulf to that scarecrow: See this as a hint from above:  He (the Saudi monarch) has no need of a ready army and circling airplanes. There are 300 jeeps which will not stop except for food (nothing else will stop them). And they will hang you along with your brave soldiers. At that point, neither Azmi (Bashara) or anyone else will be able  to help  you. They (the Qataris) do not fight with anyone but live by means of foul schemes, lies and humiliation. They establish illusionary organizations (the Muslim Brotherhood) in far off countries (the US and Europe) and shadow media (al Jazeera)  and call for internationalizing the holy sites  in order to create the false impression that they  have nothing to do (with that idea). The Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubayr, has warned them most clearly in the past that this is a declaration of war. Do not test the patience of the great powers, you dwarves."


The important question, however, is how Trump sees the picture. And we must not forget that Turkey once controlled Mecca and Medina and what Qatar is saying is really Erdogan's wish to turn the clock back to the days when the Ottoman's ruled Hijaz.
There can be no clearer threat to Qatar from the Saudis. Saud Qahtani expresses not only the Saudi  ruler's intentions – or shall we say Suleiman, his son and heir's intentions – but also the way the Saudi monarchy views Qatar: with disgust, repulsion and the feeling that they have had quite enough of the Al Tanis, the Qatari ruling family's behavior.

Is this a declaration of war?  I do not know, but one thing is certain, the relations between Qatar and its supporters, Iran and Turkey, vis a vis the Saudis, United Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt are becoming more and more strained. The important question, however, is how Trump sees the picture. And we must not forget that Turkey once controlled Mecca and Medina and what Qatar is saying is really Erdogan's wish to turn the clock back to the days when the Ottoman's ruled Hijaz.

Israel, too, has scores to settle with Qatar for its wholehearted support for  Hamas, and for  the half billion dollars Qatar has put aside to invest in wresting Jerusalem from Israel, this in addition to its incitement to anti-Israel terror on al Jazeera 24 hours a day.

The number of Israelis who will be upset if the Saudis invade Qatar is minimal – and all of those are members of the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhod Islamic Movement .

Who said it is boring in the Middle East?

Written for Arutz Sheva, translated from the Hebrew by Rochel Sylvetsky, Senior Consultant for Arutz Sheva English, Op-ed and Judaism Editor.








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