One of the most prominent feuds in the Middle East is between Saudi Arabia and the tiny natural gas-rich nation of Qatar. Saudi Arabia does not look to kindly on those nations that disobey its commands. It is one thing for Syria [though this dispute has ended] to buck the Saudis. Syria is a historic, proud and populous Arab country, what really irritates that Saudis is that Qatar is a diplomatic rival.
Qatar is a tiny peninsula nation that has managed to be a powerhouse in the region to the great resentment of the Saudis. What first put Qatar on the map is the state-funded al-Jazeera network. Launched in the late 1990s, with a lot of hired talent from the then defunct BBC Arabic, al-Jazeera has risen to become the most prominent Arab channel. Arabs has previously been accustomed to placid news from their own state-owned news networks which did not broadcast anything in the way of criticism either of their own governments or those of Arab states.
al-Jazeera broke the rules with its critical 24/7 coverage. Doha, the capital of Qatar, become a prominent city almost overnight. al-Jazeera has been harassed in many Arab countries for its critical coverage of autocratic Arab regimes; many nations, including Tunisia, have closed their embassies in Doha in protest. The Saudis have been just as contemptuous of al-Jazeera.
The way al-Jazeera treats Saudi Arabia is simply: when the two nations are feuding, then the network provided ample time to Saudi dissidents. When rapprochement is in the works, then criticism of Saudi Arabia toned down to a very evident degree as when the two nations repaired relations early 2008.
Saudi Arabia did not just sit down and take it. It has prohibited al-Jazeera from opening an office in the Kingdom and will not even let them send a reported to Mecca to cover the Hajj. It has also launched an advertising blacklist campaign against the nation. The Saudis prohibit any company that advertises on al-Jazeera from doing business in the Kingdom. Because the Saudi market is the most lucrative, almost every regional and foreign firm abides by the Saudi demand. It is for this reason that al-Jazeera has never turned a profit: it can’t sell ad space. Watching al-Jazeera, one will notice that almost all [if not all] of the ads are from Qatari, most state-owned, companies. And the Saudis launched their rival network al-Arabiyaa without any subtlety that they are in a rivalry with al-Jazeera. But the latter still dominates the ratings.
After a brief period of mutual reconciliation, the Qatari-Saudi feud is back on. The dispute is over several matters: Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
First Hezbollah. The Lebanese party-cum-militia is loathed by the Saudis because the Shia group is seen as a pawn of Shia, Persian Iran dedicated to undermining Sunni authority in the region. The Saudis have worked [to no avail] in their media to undermine the popularity of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah. The Saudis worry about a so-called Shia crescent, to quote the venial King of Jordan, in the region that will incite rebellion amongst the Kingdom’s discriminated against Shia minority; whom are 10% of the population. This they wants Hezbollah sidelined. Qatar, conversely, is accepting of Hezbollah and the Emir has even expressed admiration for Hasan Nasrallah. Once while in Damascus, he requested to meet Nasrallah, but Nasrallah declined. From Hezbollah to its backer. . .
Iran is the strongest sources of dispute between the two nations. Saudi Arabia is strongly opposed to Iran’s efforts to regain regional prominence if not supremacy. The Kingdom favors an Israeli and/or American attack on Iranian nuclear sites. The Arab, Sunni Kingdom has no patience for the idea that Persia, Shia Iran should be the dominant player in the region. Again, conversely, Qatar is comfortable with the notion of a resurgent Iran. The Emir has invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a gathering of Arab leaders and has developed to a degree close ties with Iran.
And, finally, Hamas. Saudi Arabia is opposed to the militant Islamic fundamentalist group. While Qatar has invited Hamas over as a partner in the Middle East.
Recently, the dispute between both nations has gotten so bad that when Qatar hosted the annual Arab League Summit this year, the Saudi King declined to attend and instead sent an emissary.
What does the future hold? As long as peace remains elusive in Palestine/Israel and Iranian is not stopped in its nuclear pursuit, then the Saudis and the Qataris will not be meeting for a a friendly gathering any time soon.