The Diplomatic Crisis

On 5th June 2017, we witnessed- what could possibly have been one of the worst cases of a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf Arab states in the past decades. Saudi Arabia, United Nations Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain declared that they have severed all sorts of diplomatic and transport links with Qatar; giving Qatari citizens a window of 14 days to leave their territories and banning their citizens from traveling to or residing in Qatar. Later, Egypt, Yemen, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government also cut their ties with Qatar. Out of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, only Kuwait and Oman have maintained their ties with Qatar, with Kuwait offering to mediate in this dispute. Turkey and Iran have been quick in providing support to Qatar through transporting the much-needed food supplies (Most of the food is imported into Qatar via its only land border, which it shares with Saudi Arabia.)

Why was Qatar isolated by its geographical neighbors?

Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain have accused Qatar of supporting terrorism through funding extremist groups such as Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Muslim Brotherhood, a religious and political group, is viewed as an enemy by the Gulf Arabs and Egypt. Qatar has vehemently denied assisting any militant group such as ISIS, although it does acknowledge aiding Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar has long been following a policy of increasing the number of diplomatic ties forged within the region, to counterbalance Saudi Arabia’s power in the Gulf region. As such it has acted as a mediator in many of the regional disputes; much to the annoyance of others.

Qatar’s relations with Iran has drawn fire from Saudi Arabia for a long time now. Saudi Arabia and Iran have been at odds over a number of issues, such as Iran’s nuclear program and its growing influence in the region. Hence, when comments allegedly made by Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, surfaced- hailing Iran as an “Islamic power”- it was the last straw for Saudi Arabia. Qatar, however, has maintained that its official news agency’s website had been hacked. It had released official statements for the same; although the fake comments made their rounds across various news stations.

Speaking of news stations, another reason for this crisis could very well be the state funded broadcaster, Al- Jazeera. In a region where the media is under the states’ stringent control, Al- Jazeera stands out with its rather unbiased and transparent content. It faced severe backlash when it covered the events of Arab Spring in 2011 and was accused of supporting Islamists.  It has also been critical of policies and actions of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt. As such, these countries strongly resent Al Jazeera, which has gained a huge viewership in the Middle Eastern region.  This blockade could be interpreted as an attempt to rein it in, as one of the significant demands in exchange for lifting the blockade is to close down the network.

What is the situation presently?

Saudi Arabia and the other nations presented a 13 pointer list of demands in exchange for removing the blockade. These “non-negotiable” demands which included the closure of Al- Jazeera, cutting off ties with Muslim Brotherhood, reducing its contact with Iran all signaled Qatar to align its, rather, liberated foreign policies with those of the other GCC members. The Qatari government refused to accept these demands reportedly claiming that they have “nothing to do with combating terrorism, it is about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing our foreign policy.” Qatar called for UN’s intervention in what is a “violation of international law”.

The US urged the Saudi led alliance to be “reasonable” in their demands; however, the anti- Qatar bloc maintains that their demands are the endpoints of their dialogues with Qatar. Presently, it appears that this chaos is here to stay as neither of the two sides is showing any signs of loosening up. While the dialogues are at a standstill, the Qatari citizens are the ones who are facing the brunt of this blockade -Qatari citizens living in anti- Qatar bloc were forced to leave for Qatar, any Qatari citizen wishing to enter Saudi Arabia could do so only through two airports and must travel through Doha to be allowed in. Surprisingly, the economy seems to be doing fine (considering the scale of the blockade). As it has found different channels of trade, the prices are stable and it appears that Qatar could face this crisis for months to come.

 By Arushi Sharma

Image Source:Crossed Flag Pins

This article is from our monthly magazine The Economic Transcript; to subscribe click here.