On the second day of the Qatar crisis, people are all ready looking for possible outcomes.
Here are the most likely outcomes based how things currently stand, in order from most to least likely.
1. Palace Coup/Internal Regime Change
It is a open secret among the Qatari elite and watchers of the Gulf that many prominent figures in Qatar have been openly opposed to the wily rule of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Coming to power at the age of 34 in 2013, the young Emir has often pursued foreign policies designed to ‘rock the cradle’.
This caused a temporary diplomatic crisis between Qatar and Saudi Arabia in 2014 and is the proximate cause of the current, much deeper crisis.
Many have openly complained that Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani’s mother is secretly pulling many of the strings of government behind the scenes and are consequently deeply desirous for a more experienced or at least a less controversial leader to take power.
With pressure from all sides, many in Qatar may feel that now is the time to do something they have always wanted to do, enact a controversial but likely bloodless palace coup against the current leader.
Such things are not without very recent precedent in Qatar. In 1995, the current Emir’s father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, came to power in a bloodless coup before resigning in 2013.
Some reports from Arab media have suggested that privately, the still living former Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, favours Abdullah bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to take over as the ruler of Qatar. Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani is the half-brother of the current ruler.
If the situation continues to deteriorate, members of the Qatari ruling family and other elite members of the Qatari state may simply take matters into their own hands. The Saudis would almost certainly be happy that their pressure could help to foment regime change and the wider world would look the other direction. The United States, a staunch ally of both Qatar and Saudi, would likely tacitly approve of such an event.
2. Indefinite Deadlock
In spite of many in Qatar being uneasy with the young and overly ambitious rule of Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, he still does command a considerable amount of loyalty and power.
Of course, if an attempted palace coup were to fail, this would mean that the ruling regime would if anything tighten its grip on power making peaceful regime change all the more unlikely.
In this case, if the Saudis and Emiratis are intent on geographically isolating Qatar, the state could plunge into an internal crises that could force external mediators to attempt to intervene.
It is still however too early to say that this might happen any time soon. Even Turkey, the non-Arab state which is most keen to actively intervene in the crisis, has resigned itself to sit and wait to be called upon to step in. President Erdogan’s phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the matter, is testament to the fact that for the time being, Turkey will not act unilaterally. The Untied States has publicly urged for calm and adopted a tone of total neutrality.
3. A Brokered Deal
Russia’s stated neutrality is legitimate while Turkey’s pro-Qatari stance while not yet openly flaunted by the Turkish regime, is unambiguous.
Egypt will never take Qatar’s side as Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood which is once again outlawed in Egypt, is seen as unforgivable.
Syria has no relations with Qatar or Saudi and Iraq is in no position to broker its own crisis let along one beyond its borders.
Kuwait and Oman don’t have the political influence necessary to broker such a deal and Iran will wisely keep well away from the Gulf which is to put it mildly, the most anti-Tehran region this side of Los Angeles. Iran will offer a lot of wise commentary on the issue, but will not politically intervene in the region, contrary to what some Gulfi and Salafist propaganda might say.
That leaves the United States which has a tremendous military presence in Qatar but also a notably one in Saudi Arabia. America is an ally to both and some would define both sates as having an inter-dependant relationship with the United States.
That being said, Donald Trump appears far less likely than his predecessor to want to get his hands dirty in a local Arab spat, however wide-reaching this spat may become.
While Russia could possibly broker a deal, first of all, Russia would only do this if both Qatar and Saudi called for it. Egypt would almost certainly be happy about this, but the Gulf states while not enemies of Russia, generally read from a totally different geo-political page. Still though, such a scenario isn’t impossible.
Russia could evenwork with Turkey. If such a thing is possible in Astana over the much more heated issue of the Syrian war, than it may be possible in respect of the Gulf. That being said, such a thing is still a long way off.
4. Pretext For War With Iran
This scenario is one that ought to be dealt with, if for no other reason than to address the fact that such an absurd hypothesis is still being seriously entertained by many people. It is time to put such things to rest.
No US President from Jimmy Carter up through Donald Trump has gone to war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Most have sought to destroy Iran but none of the them attempted to do so directly, because none of them could.
Iraq with both Soviet and western weapons could not do it in the 1980s and Iran has become far more powerful since then, in more ways than one.
Saudi and America were never going to be able to unite the Arab world against Iran. Iraq is now pro-Iranian and Ba’athist Syria is an Iranian ally. Lebanon has its own problems and its most powerful and well organised military party, Hezbollah would actively fight for Iran.
Egypt has its own problems and would simply look the other way.
Crucially, Pakistan which both Saudi and Qatar would rely on to provide mercenaries in the event of a war against Iran, has carefully refused to follow the Saudi led path to isolate Qatar. Pakistan is ultimately looking out for itself and sees no reason why it should alienate any Gulf country.
If anything, recently developments make the possibility of a war on Iran less likely because the most anti-Iranian region in the Arab world, the Gulf, is now witnessing an internal crisis. So much for an ‘Arab NATO’, something that was doomed to failure the moment such a shambolic phrase was uttered.
Iran looks more and more like the stable ancient state that it always has been. Meanwhile, the Gulf has descended into the tribal, familial fighting that says a lot about just how ‘state like’ the Gulf ‘states’ really are.
5. Hot Saudi War on Qatar
The United States will simply not allow Saudi and Qatar to fight each other on a field of battle. When it comes to ascertaining who has the best military in the Gulf, the answer is simple: America.
America, with the soldiers and equipment it currently has stationed in the Gulf, could win any war it wants among rival Gulfis. This is why not even a rogue Gulfi general would be so stupid to try and act unilaterally in this way.
Some might dream of it, but in this case ‘The American Dream’ is the only fairy-tale which matters in the Gulf.