Globalized Arab Feud
On June 5, 2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, custodian of the Kaaba,’ severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Some commentators believe that the Gulf spat is the product of fake news. Another theory is that “Bahrain accused Doha of meddling with its internal affairs with the aim of “overthrowing the regime through Bahrain’s opposition Shia Al-Wefaq movement.”
Others still think that a ransom paid by Qatar to terror groups in 2015 ignited this diplomatic volcano between the two sides. According to an article by the Daily Mail, the tipping point for the Gulf diplomatic crisis happened when “it was revealed that Qatar paid $1 billion for a ransom in 2015 and “secured the release of 26 members of a falconry party (see the photo), which included some members of Qatar’s royal family.”
The ransom money was allegedly handed to Syria-based Al-Qaida through Iranian security officials who acted as intermediary.
It is Orwellian, though, these two countries would undermine each other and tilt their countries towards an open conflict on the month of Ramadan. First, fanning conflict among peaceful communities is a criminally sinful act. Second, it is an open secret that both states finance terror groups at equal zeal in Africa and in the Middle-east as well.
This feud quickly escalated to take a wider regional shape. As it stands now, it involves Turkey, Iran and Qatar on one side, and the coalition of Saudi, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and Israel in the background. Less prominent in the conflict at this juncture are a host of terror groups who are in the waiting. Djibouti and Jordan have downgraded their diplomatic missions. Also, the Sunni vs. Shai cleavage is in play here.
Moreover, the only superpower in the world is apparently profiteering out of the conflict, as has been shown by the recent Qatari purchase of 15 fighter jets to the tune of $12 billion. President Trump’s premature tweet in which he condemned the very side he is sealing the deal with prompts one to call this conflict a manufactured conflict.
At least in the case of Somalia, Saudi Arabia reportedly gave an ultimatum to the President of the SFG to either side with them or with the enemy, meaning Qatar. Farmajo refused to capitulate. On June 7, 2017, Somalia chose not to take sides and issued the following press release: “Somalia calls to all the brotherly countries involved to settle the differences through dialogue and within the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” read the statement.”
Most Somalia observers as well as Somali citizens think the Farmajo administration’s neutrality and the call to solve the conflict through dialogue is the right course of action. Somali people do not have any stake in this conflict, and it will soon come to an end.
Pressures on Somalia
There are three major identifiable pressures to be applied on Somalia, the first of which is financial. Although the Somali government denied, both international and local press widely reported that Somalia turned down $80 million dollars in exchange for cutting ties with Qatar. Whether this amount of money is a new package or an undelivered old promise as a payback for former government of Hassan Sheik Mohamed’s infantile action of severing ties with the Islamic Republic of Iran is not clear.
A second pressure could come in the form of stopping export of livestock to both Saudi Arabia and Dubai. It is assumed that these two countries buy the bulk of Somalia’s livestock. Add to this the proclivity of Saudis and Dubai Sheikhs to undermine Somalia’s political stability by using regional leaders. The recent invasive unilateral moves of firms based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to develop Somalia’s ports of Bossaaso and Berbera could be used as a tool to create wedge between SFG and Puntland and Somaliland.
Even some cynics go as far as threatening the fragile government of Farmajo with saboteurs and subversive actions through some parliamentarians.
Principles of Value to Somalis
The Gulf States have already hurt Somalia in many ways; they rarely bought Somali livestock in the last 25 years; they deported thousands of refugees at the worst time in Somali history; they enslaved hundreds of Somali women who were exported as domestic workers. Both Saudis and UAE promised many charity programs but never delivered.
In the last few years, both sides to the conflict have been active in Somali politics, most often to the detriment of Somalia’s national sovereignty and recovery efforts. Despite band aid Gulf countries gave to Somalia, they regularly turned around and relentlessly and deliberately helped erode Somalia’s sovereignty either by funding terror groups, or attempting to use their minimal aid to hand-pick presidents as well as prime ministers.
The bulk of aid by Gulf States, mainly financing madrasas that are more likely to function as terror cells, was delivered through non-state “Islamic” charities as well as individuals acting as conduits. Such aid amounts to nothing for the reconstruction of Somalia.
Somali political views by far coalesce around the notion that Gulf States hurt Somalia more than they helped. They hurt Somalia’s sovereignty. A case in point is the actions of Dubai and Abu-Dhabi where port development companies of these respective countries entered into what could pass as “extraterritorial” deals on Somalia’s ports. In the Dubai case, Ethiopia is mad a shareholder of the Berbera deal to the exclusion of the Somali Federal Government.
The actions of these Gulf States constitute a deadly dagger in the heart of the Somalia sovereignty. As if that was not enough stabbing in the back, UAE runs parallel armies and paratroopers inside Somalia. Paid by Dubai government, these paratroopers directly report to the UAE’s mission in Mogadishu; they are a significant threat to the effort of the Federal government in its effort to manage national security.
Moreover, Saudis spent in the last 25 or so years millions of dollars to advance subtle terror groups camouflaged as “Islamic” charities. Theses charities spread beyond repair the venom of Wahhabism which took roots in Somalia and effectively divided the hitherto cohesive Somali society into irreconcilable religious sects.
The Saudi coalition can for sure live and sustain its conflict with Qatar without securing Somalia’s support, one may argue. If so, why is it pressuring Somalia? Simply put, Saudis and Dubai Sheikhs are intent to turn Somalia a vassal state.
Farmajo’s choice of protecting Somalia’s sovereignty over vassal statehood is worth the loss of Gulf’s band aid. If so, what is the pay-off of sticking to the neutrality stance that Somali government took? Simply put it, it could pay-off the Farmajo administration in the form of enhanced legitimacy. Regaining full legitimacy at this juncture in Somali history is a monumental tool towards speedy recovering and reconstruction of Somalia’s collapsed state.
Somali leaders desperately need political legitimacy. For too long successive post-civil war administrations seriously lacked legitimacy. Unhindered foreign intervention in Somalia’s affairs has been one of several factors that had eroded political legitimacy and consequently perpetuated statelessness.
Staying the course and sticking to the position that most Somalis think to be right will enhance the legitimacy of this administration. And this gain is worth more than what money can buy.
By Faisal Roble
Faisal Roble, a writer, political analyst and a former Editor-in-Chief of WardheerNews, is mainly interested in the Horn of Africa region. He is currently the Principal Planner for the City of Los Angeles in charge of Master Planning, Economic Development and Project Implementation Division.