The Qatari blockade is not mere a cordon off, of a single tiny Gulfdoom, it could generate ripple effects, destabilizing in entire region of Gulf. Just, for example, 40 percent of Qatar’s food supply arrives in the country via land transport from Saudi Arabia. There have already been reports of runs on supermarkets and ATMs. Qatar’s stock market index sank 7.5 percent thus far, and the cancellation of flights just from within the Gulf will have serious financial implications. And of course, there is also the related financial fall-out from interrupting the 2022 World Cup preparation timeline.
In fact, this time, unlike the spat from three years ago, the rift goes beyond GCC members Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, to include Egypt, Yemen, and even reportedly the Maldives—all of which announced they were cutting diplomatic ties and preventing travel (by land, air, and sea in varying degrees) to Qatar. Saudi Arabia is deeply hostile to that approach and now feels empowered to turn that hostility to action, in the certain knowledge that a new president, Donald Trump, is at Saudi King Salman’s side. It’s the biggest political crisis most likely to hit the Middle East in years to come. Qatari nationals are now officially on notice to leave neighboring countries within two weeks after an unprecedented diplomatic freeze of the nation by key allies and neighbors. A total of nine nations have so far moved to indefinitely sever ties with Qatar.
Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is British-educated and was named emir of Qatar after his 61-year-old father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, announced his abdication as leader of the gas-rich Gulf state in June 2013. Sheikh Hamad’s abdication broke the mould of Gulf politics, where rulers traditionally remain on the throne until they die. Sheikh Tamim, 33, presents a younger face as ruler, at odds with the older generations in neighbouring states.
Taking over from his father, whose 18-year rule was marked by the emergence of Qatar as an influential player on both the Gulf and world stage, Sheikh Tamim’s elevation to emir marks the confirmation of the Al Thani dynasty’s grip on power in Qatar. Al Thani family members hold many key posts in the country’s government, and the smooth transition to a new emir underlines a desire for stability in an unpredictable region. Doha became an influential regional player under the rule of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa, backing the Arab Spring revolutions and siding with rebels fighting against authoritarian governments in Syria and Libya. It is also home to the Al-Jazeera TV channel and it has won the right to host the 2022 football World Cup.
Emir of Qatar pursues a series of policies which simply don’t fit into the rigid orthodoxy expected by most of the others, notably Saudi Arabia, the superpower of Sunni Islam. His unconventional foreign policy is seen as a threat to Sunni solidarity, particularly because the emir and his ministers promote dialogue and a search for good relations with the rival regional superpower, Shia Muslim Iran. He sees Al-Jazeera as an agent of positive change across the Arab world, opening up political debate, reporting on the challenges from ordinary people from the street, so evident during the “Arab Spring”.
subsequent extraordinarily harsh measures have been taken so for:
Severed diplomatic relations.
Severed all economic and financial relations, and declared a land, sea and air blockade of the emirate.
Demanded personnel and program changes at al-Jazeera.
Ordered their citizens out of Qatar and all Qataris out of their countries (an exception to be made for those Qataris performing the pilgrimage to Mecca).
Demanded the withdrawal of the Qatari contingent fighting the Houthis in Yemen (there is a rumor that one of the reasons for the anti-Qatar measures is that it was discovered that Qatari troops were clandestinely providing information about alliance military plans to the Houthis).
Such a series of coordinated measures can only mean that the alliance objective is regime change in Qatar, as the last time, but this time resulting in a total redirection of Qatari regional policies and actions. in 2014 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar to emphasize their objections to various policies adopted and actions taken by the Gulf state. As a result, the reigning emir abdicated in favor of his son.
Kuwait and Oman, the two members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that have not yet joined the alliance against Qatar. Both countries have offered to try to resolve the conflict peacefully. Kuwait and Oman have traditionally been less anti-Iranian than the others, although they have not been accused of fostering or financing jihadism. Turkey. The Erdogan government and Qatar have collaborated on several fronts over the past few years and the Turks cannot be pleased by the threat to their ally.
The Americans are not likely to be as involved in rapprochement efforts this time around. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented on the development saying, “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences, and we – if there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC remain unified.” However, crafted diplomatic statements aside, observers of the region don’t see the Trump administration doing much beyond encouraging the Saudis to get their regional ducks in a row, so to speak.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her concern about the situation in Qatar, saying that all Gulf countries, and also Iran and Turkey, should work together to end the regional crisis. Further saying “We have to see that the political solution of conflicts … such as the situation in Syria, such as the situation in Libya or the situation in Iraq, won’t happen if certain players are no longer even included in the conversation, and that includes Qatar, it includes Turkey, it includes Iran,” said Merkel, speaking alongside Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during a visit to Mexico City. Merkel said she wanted the balance of power to be maintained “sensibly” in the region, and that security would be on the agenda when G20 leaders meet next month in the German city of Hamburg.
Eritrea declined a request by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. The African nation’s foreign ministry said in a statement it “rejected” the demand to cut ties “with brother Doha”. It said Eritrea had “strong ties with the brother people of Qatar”, and it was “impossible to cut ties”. Maldives have also broken relations with Qatar. To be sure, this has nothing to do with the recent promise of a Saudi five-year loan facility of $300m to the Maldives, the proposal of a Saudi property company to invest $100m in a family resort in the Maldives and a promise by Saudi Islamic scholars to spend $100,000 on 10 “world class” mosques in the Maldives.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reaffirmed his backing for Qatar in its dispute with other Gulf nations, saying Turkey would never leave the country isolated. He called on Saudi Arabia and other countries of the region to end their sanctions, rejecting accusations by these countries that Qatar supports “terror groups”. Referring to a statement by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling on the Arab nations to immediately ease their blockade of Qatar, Erdogan said: “I say let’s lift it entirely”. On Wednesday, Turkey’s parliament passed legislation permitting the deployment of troops to a Turkish military base in Qatar.
Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is home to more than 11,000 US and coalition forces and an important base for the fight against ISIL. He did not explain how exactly it was affecting planning for longer-term operations. “While current operations from Al Udeid Air Base have not been interrupted or curtailed, the evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations,” Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. Davis said Qatar remained critical for air operations against ISIL.
For its part, Qatar said this current rift on a terrible misunderstanding stemming from the news agency “hack.” Accordingly, the Qatari foreign ministry said in its statement yesterday, “The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications.” This attempt to underplay and divert attention away from this negative press is par for the course, and anyone who is expecting a public mea culpa may be waiting for a long time.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said the Gulf rift is threatening the stability of the entire region. He also said diplomacy was still Doha’s preferred option and there would never be a military solution to the problem. Qatar had never experienced this type of hostility, even from an enemy country, he said. “No one has the right to intervene in our foreign policy.” “We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy.” He also said the Emir of Qatar would not travel to Washington for GCC crisis talks suggested by US President Donald Trump because he did not want to leave his country while it is “in blockade”.
So for so on mediation efforts led by Kuwait, the standoff continues five days into the dispute between Saudi and its allies, and Qatar. We look at some of the key points of the ongoing rift. Turkey sending troops: Following the threats made against Qatar, its close ally Turkey voted to to accelerate the deployment of troops to its base in the peninsula. As accusations heated up, Saudi signalled that it was escalating the row in the media sphere – first by shutting down the local office of the Doha-based Al Jazeera Media Network. Days before the diplomatic spat boiled over, Al Jazeera’s websites were already blocked in Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. On Thursday evening, a joint action by Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt placed 59 individuals and 12 organisations on a “terror list”. It includes the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousuf al-Qaradawi and 18 prominent Qataris. On Friday, Qatar dismissed the list as “baseless” allegations that “hold no foundation in fact”.
In the first hours of the diplomatic scuffle, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it is important that the GCC members remain “unified”. Tillerson’s assurances, however, were thrown in doubt after US President Donald Trump wrote a post on social media referencing Qatar when he said leaders of the Middle East had stated that they “would take a hard line on funding extremism”. He later made a phone call to Qatar’s leader to offer help in resolving the crisis. Instead of diffusing the already heated situation, Trump’s tweets only led to more discord. Anwar Gargash, minister of state affairs for the United Arab Emirates accused Qatar of escalating the crisis by seeking help from Turkey and Iran.
Saudi Arabia and Iran having different world view and divergent opinion over several regional issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and what Saudis see as Tehran’s growing influence in the kingdom’s sphere of influence — especially in Syria, Lebanon and neighboring Yemen. Qatar and Iran share the largest underwater natural gas field in the world. But recent Gulf reports have charged the relationship goes beyond resource management, accusing Qatari officials of meeting with the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will now be in a position to demand concessions from Qatar in return for restoration of diplomatic and economic ties. Analysts said that one of their demands could be the closure of television network Al Jazeera. Established two decades ago in Doha, Al Jazeera helped to expand Qatar’s political influence by broadcasting Arabic-language programs that were seen in millions of living rooms around the region. Any kind of instability in the Middle East tends to send up oil prices, and the longer prices stay high, the more likely it is that it will cost more to fill up your tank. So far, oil and gas markets have been taking the crisis in their stride. “Qatar is the world’s biggest LNG exporter. It has pipelines in the Gulf and could retaliate but cutting off supplies to its neighbors. (It’s) something to watch.”
Keeping Pakistan’s strong diplomatic relations with the Middle Eastern countries, it is in best favor of Pakistan to keep a balanced stance of the current Qatar-Gulf rift. Pakistan’s parliament has expressed its “deep concern” over the blockade and severing of ties with Qatar by several Arab states, calling for the government to help mediate in the crisis between the Gulf state and its neighbours. In addition, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif holds close ties with the ruling families in both Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In 2000, when he fled a military coup, Sharif resided in Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port city on the Red Sea, for eight years while in exile.
The Saudi government also gave Sharif’s government a grant of $1.5bn in March 2014 to help meet debt-service obligations and undertake large development projects. At the time, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar termed the grant, “a gift”. In more recent times, Sharif has relied heavily upon the testimony of former Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani as a part of his defence in an ongoing corruption investigation at the Supreme Court that could unseat him as prime minister. Knowing the Prime Minister is on his visit to confronting capital for mending the ties.
Co-Author: Awais Zahid Abbasi, graduated from National Defense University (NDU) Islamabad.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.