On June 5, 2017, the Qatar diplomatic crisis saw Saudi Arabia and its allies namely Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt sever diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar accusing the peninsula nation of supporting and funding terrorist organizations in cahoots with Iran.
Libya, Yemen, and Maldives also joined the fray cutting off all diplomatic ties and banning the country’s state-owned carrier, Qatar Airways, from entering their airspace.
This latest move, coming barely two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia where he vowed to improve ties with Riyadh and Cairo to fight terrorism and restrain Iran, has thrown the already turbulent region into further chaos and uncertainty.
Saudi Arabia and its allies said they would close down all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, throw out its diplomats and expel Qatari citizens from the Gulf States within 14 days.
The countries involved in the ban have also denied Qatar Airways access to their airspace which is expected to affect the airline adversely – especially the airspace restrictions put in place by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways has suspended all its flights to Saudi Arabia while Etihad Airways, Emirates, and Flydubai, canceled all flights to and from Doha effective Tuesday.
The kingdom nation has justified its rather drastic action citing Qatar’s inclination to support “various terrorist and sectarian groups” like the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, the Islamic State and other militant organizations backed by Iran “aimed at destabilizing the region.”
Saudi Arabia’s state news agency stated that the decision to cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar was primarily to “protect national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The statement confirmed that all ports of entry between the two countries would be closed.
“Funding and hosting” the Muslim Brotherhood, an almost 100-year-old Islamist group deemed a terrorist organization by Saudi Arabia and its allies, is the reason given by the UAE for its decision to sever ties with Qatar.
It also stated that Qatar’s “ongoing policies that rattle the security and sovereignty of the region as well as its manipulation and evasion of its commitments and treaties”, have been instrumental in UAE’s decision to boycott the gas-rich state.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry has blamed Qatar of adopting an “antagonist approach” toward Cairo stating that all efforts to stop it from providing support to terrorist organizations have been an exercise in futility.
Qatar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, has denied all accusations and allegations made by the seven countries involved in the sanctions against it saying there was “no legitimate justification” for the extreme decision and asserted that Qataris would not be affected by it.
The Qatar foreign ministry in an online statement posted in Arabic stated “the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Qatar expressed its deep regret and surprise at the decisions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Bahrain to close their borders and airspace, and sever diplomatic relations with the State of Qatar, bearing in mind that these measures are unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.”
“That reasons were fabricated in order to take action against a brotherly GCC nation is clear evidence that there is no legitimate justification for such measures, which have been implemented in coordination with Egypt,” it said.
“…..these measures will not affect the normal course of the life of citizens and residents of Qatar. The Qatari government will take all necessary measures to ensure this and thwart attempts to influence and harm Qatari society and economy,” said the online statement.
Following the embargo announcement, panicked shopping was witnessed in the Qatari capital of Doha, amid apprehensions that there was a possibility of acute food shortage resulting from Saudi Arabia closing its land border with Qatar – it must be mentioned that the peninsula nation is dependent on Saudi Arabia for about 40% of its food requirements.
Despite assurances from Qatar’s foreign ministry that the border closing would not affect normal life, people made a dash for the supermarkets to stock up on essentials like rice, water, milk, and meat. Photographs of cleaned-out supermarket shelves were soon doing the rounds on social media.
The QDC (Qatar Diplomatic Crisis) could well prove to be an embarrassment for the small gas-rich state which is gearing up for the prestigious Fifa World Cup it is due to host in 2022.
The preparation for the tournament involving multi-billion dollar stadia and infrastructure development is certainly threatened, if not jeopardized, with the current state of affairs and is sure to be a major cause for worry for the organizers of the tournament.
Not to forget, Qatar is host to the largest U.S. airbase in the Middle East and the current crisis has the potential to affect the base activities and functionality causing the Qatar government even more discomfiture.
However, the presence of a strategic U.S. airbase in the oil-rich peninsula did not deter POTUS from shooting off a series of tweets in support of the action against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” he tweeted about his recent visit to Riyadh.
“They said they would take a hard line on funding… extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
However, later Tuesday, not too long after the tweets lauding the move against Qatar, President Donald Trump appealed for Gulf unity during a telephone conversation with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.
A Whitehouse statement regarding the call said that “the two leaders discussed the critical goals of preventing the financing of terrorist organizations and eliminating the promotion of extremism by any nation in the region.”
“The president underscored that a United Gulf Cooperation Council is critical to defeating terrorism and promoting regional stability,” said the Whitehouse statement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was critical of the ban imposed on Qatar and pledged to continue maintaining and developing ties with the energy-rich state.
He was all praise for Doha’s “cool-headedness” and “constructive approach” in handling the sudden crisis to have befallen the nation.
Jordan, after assessing the Qatar crisis and the causes that led to it, is relegating its diplomatic representation and withdrawing licenses for the Amman bureau of Al-Jazeera, the Doha-based TV news channel.
The West African state of Mauritania has also voiced its support for the Riyadh initiative emphasizing that Qatar has been backing terrorist groups and has “promoted chaos in many Arab countries.”
French President Emmanuel Macron has shown his willingness to support “all initiatives to encourage calm.”
While Qatar is open to talks, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir feels that it is imperative the Gulf nation “change their policies” and stop supporting “extremist groups”.
Fearing major travel snafus, International Air Transport Association has appealed to the states that have initiated the ban against Qatar to resume air links with the country.
According to Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, the Australian government does not intend to take any action against Qatar or their national carrier, Qatar Airways.
“We encourage leaders in the Gulf to maintain dialogue to repair ties as soon as possible and we welcome any efforts to mediate a resolution,” said the minister.
“Australia maintains good relations with all member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Qatar,” she added.