Between the 5 and 6th of June, 9 countries including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Bahrain, Mauritius, Mauritania, the Maldives and Libya’s eastern-based government fully froze all diplomatic relations with Qatar. This is an unprecedented in its scope and structure case even though it is not the first crisis in that region in the modern history.
By this move, Qatar literally fell into isolation, since this blockade means the full closure of all possible borders of the Gulf states around Qatar including aircraft and ships. In addition, several Middle East’s airlines no longer provide flights in both directions for Doha (Qatar’s capital). Such a blockade will be a serious test for Qatar, despite the fact that it is recognized as one of the richest countries in the world because of the huge reserves of oil and gas in the bowels of the Qatar land. Also, in 2016 it was estimated to have the fourth highest GDP per capita in the world. Qatar does not produce its own food and nearly the entire supply of groceries before the blockade came from Saudi Arabia, meaning that after the closure of the borders food reserves will start to deplete and no one can say for sure how long it could take to solve that crisis in the Middle East. Authorities of Qatar express the opinion that this ban is violating the sovereignty of the country.
What was the reason for such a rapid escalation? The first reason is that according to Saudi Arabia, Qatar provides funding to terrorist organizations such as the Muslim Brotherhood that severely destabilizes the region. In response, Qatar denies that it supports terrorists and states that Qatar is, on the contrary, actively helping to fight ISIS. Besides, critique on Al Jazeera – one of the largest news organizations that is owned by the government of Qatar and which was blocked in Saudi Arabia and UAE in the end of May – appeared to be another reason for the blockade. The third reason is usually considered to be the relations between Qatar and Iran. For example, Al Jazeera has described Iran as an “Islamic power”, and criticized President Trump’s policy towards Tehran. However, Qatar stated that the channel was hacked and that the report was simply a fake one. Nevertheless, Qatar and Iran indeed have close economic relations mainly grouped around gas and oil segment. Whereas, Saudi Arabia stopped its diplomatic relation with Tehran in 2016 as a consequence of an attack on the Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.
Saudi Arabia has issued certain demands that Qatar has to meet in order for the blockade to be stopped. Among them was a demand of cutting all links to Iran and closure of Al Jazeera. UAE are less willing to cooperate and stated that there is nothing to talk about. Moreover, users on social media who express any sympathy to Qatar may have to go to prison from 3 to 15 years.
It may seem that the whole world is against Qatar and is nearly freezing the country out of all relations. However, there are several countries that took a stand near Qatar and are willing to support it during the crisis. For example, Russia has invited Qatar’s foreign minister to Moscow for talks, which are believed to maximize Russian support to Qatar. Another country positioning as a friend is Turkey, which passed a law that allows accelerated deployment of Turkish troops to the country.
What impact can this crisis have? First of all, Qatar is a host for the 2022 World Cup, the closure of borders delays the construction of the stadiums and other infrastructure. Moreover, as mentioned above, the closure of borders means a shortage of food supply. People already started to stock up, which caused an increase in prices. This all is leading to a higher inflation.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain declared that Qatar citizens that are currently located in their countries should leave within 2 weeks, while diplomats were given only 2 days. The main problem coming from this will be for international companies operating in the region. For example, more than 180,000 Egyptians live and work in Qatar in fields as medicine and engineering. So, if Egypt issues a similar ban, there will be a large loss of workforce in Qatar, which affects local companies and the overall economy state of the country. International firms having affiliates and shops in Qatar are likely to be closed, at least temporarily. This puts pressure on any business deal or international trad currently going on.
Another huge problem occurred with the flights, as besides stopping the flight connection between Qatar and the other Gulf States, Qatar Airways was also banned from using the airspace above those countries. This means making huge changes in flight paths, which leads to certain losses for the company as well as a further increase in ticket prices.
Two of the most powerful countries in the region – Saudi Arabia and UAE – have already proved that they are concerned about the security of the region, so they would not want to step back from this blockade of Qatar. The only point of influence Qatar has is an important US military base, situated in Al-Udeid. However, other countries in the Middle East might be willing to replace this base in order to leave no incentives to the US to help Qatar.
The whole situation may lead to a foreign intervention into the region and Qatar in particular, such that the leadership of the country will be changed.
Although there are several ways on where this crisis can go, one thing is certain – the political situation in the Middle East will get more heated up and the economy of the whole region will experience changes, with Qatar suffering in particular.