Qatar the Outcast

What impact will the ostracization of Qatar have on the broader power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia?

ON MAY 14, Predata observed that, while the war of words between Tehran and Riyadh had been heating up, the reaction of Persian-language and Arabic-language audiences to this increase in threatening rhetoric was muted. Four weeks later, several developments suggest that the potential for an expansion of the two countries’ proxy war may have grown. 

  • On May 23, the government of Bahrain cracked down on Shia protestors – resulting in five deaths and hundreds of arrests. Predictably, while Saudi Arabia supported the Manama’s action, Tehran staged protests against the action. 
  • On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt cut diplomatic and economic ties to Qatar, alleging support for terrorists and Iran. 
  • On June 7, in response to two ISIL-claimed terrorist attacks in Tehran, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) blamed Saudi Arabia and vowed retaliation for the attacks. 

How are the digitally attuned populations in the region currently viewing the situation? The graphic above depicts three Predata signals that track: Arabic-language digital attention to Qatar; Arabic-language digital attention to issues related to the Iran-Saudi rivalry; and Persian-language digital attention to issues related to the Iran-Saudi rivalry. While all of these signals have spiked in the wake of the Qatar crisis and Tehran terror attacks, the differences are noteworthy: 

  • The Qatar signal is at its highest level in over a year. 
  • The Arabic-language signal on Iran-Saudi ties has also spiked significantly. 
  • The Persian-language signal on Iran-Saudi ties, despite having increased, remains well below the peaks that accompanied the Iranian attack on the Saudi Embassy in January 2016 and a cyber attack on Saudi Arabia in November 2016 that was assessed to be Iranian. 

These patterns suggest that, despite the IRGC allegations of Saudi complicity in the Tehran terror attacks, Iranian public concern about an increase in conflict with Saudi Arabia remains muted. Arabic-speaking audiences see the Qatar crisis as the major problem – with Iran-Saudi tensions being an important factor. With neither Saudi Arabia nor Iran likely to take steps to reduce tensions between the two countries, maintenance of minimal cooperative relations is important. Indications that either country is walking back from the agreement for Iranian pilgrims to participate in this year’s Hajj would be a concerning development.