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The Saudi-Qatari Clash Over Syria

The Saudi-Qatari Clash Over Syria

A deep look at the Gulf states' chess match over the rebels.

The reported Saudi-Qatari agreement on arms shipments, however, has not extended to their equally contentious difference over the Brotherhood’s role in the rebels’ political leadership. In March, the emergence of American-educated Ghassan Hitto as “prime minister” of a government-in-exile provoked yet another confrontation because he is regarded as a Brotherhood, and Qatari, protégé. So, too, is Mustafa al-Sabbagh, the coalition’s current secretary general, even though he lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The clash between Qatari- and Saudi-backed factions paralyzed a heated, eight-day meeting held in late May in Istanbul, once again over the choice of leaders. The former sought to block the addition of twenty new members to the National Coalition’s council, a bloc backed by Saudi Arabia and led by Michel Kilo, a Syrian Christian. In the end, the council was expanded by 43 to a total of 114 members. But there is still no agreement on a president, and the fate of the rebels’ government-in-exile remains hostage to the Qatari-Saudi feud.

David B. Ottaway is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former Washington Post Middle East correspondent.