The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman used to say that we are living in liquid times by which he meant a constant presence of change, which in turn creates uncertainty. In such a state, social institutions dissolve more quickly than the new ones are able to form. Backed by plentiful evidence, the liquidity has become a dominant feature of the increasingly contradictory Middle East. The region is characterized by short-lived alliances that are often times formed in fear rather than in shared identities. Moreover, these liquid alliances are continuously adapting to the landscape and operate in the environment of liquid rivalries too.
The recent regional boycott against Qatar is the most obvious case of this liquidity, which has, for example, brought about the current rapprochement between Iran and Turkey in the same fashion as the advance of the predominantly Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria made Turkey reconcile with Russia. The Saudi-Egyptian alliance is another example of unlikely alliances formed due to the Qatar crisis – it is worth reminding that back in October 2016, the Saudis suspended oil supplies to Egypt in response to Cairo’s move to join Russians in two votes at the United Nations. By the end of 2016, the tension was still high but this has not prevented either country to join forces against Doha. The Saudi-Emirati alliance is also fluid. Although Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have not had any clash in recent years, their involvement in Libya demonstrates their varying preferences. While the Emiratis are backing Khalifa Haftar, thus teaming up with the Egyptians, the Saudis preferred to keep out of it.
Even more interestingly, the Saudi-led coalition against Qatar was not joined by Pakistan, whose links to Qatar are important for the imports of liquefied natural gas. This decision to go against Riyadh is, however, not the first one. In 2015, Islamabad decided not to send its troops to join the operation Decisive Storm in Yemen. As a result of Pakistan’s opt-out from the Qatar boycott, Saudi Arabia feels that it can no longer rely on Pakistan as a security provider, which would have long-lasting consequences for the geopolitics of the region and beyond. Another country that has not taken side with Riyadh is Morocco, which neither sent its troops to Yemen nor joined the sanctions against Qatar. In contrast, Algeria, a country that tends to disagree with Rabat on almost everything, is exceptionally in line with Morocco on this particular issue.
Liquidity has been further reinforced by global developments. The new administration in the White House was received with hope across the Middle Eastern capitals and there is no doubt that the Qatar boycott was emboldened during Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. The “Trump Effect” could be perceived as an indication that Washington will further boost its traditional alliances or it could be a warning that Donald Trump will further destabilize the region. When it comes to the European Union, the old continent is a secondary player. Brussels is not seen as a potential ally – liquid or solid – but its brand is strong in trade and humanitarian action.
‘The Qatar Crisis: Welcome to the Liquid Middle East’ – Opinion by Eduard Soler i Lecha – Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB).
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