Because the grave accusations against Qatar came without proof, fair-minded people all over the world are still trying to figure out exactly what Qatar did to be subjected to blockade by land, by sea, and by air by its neighbours and fellow Arab nations of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Such drastic measures in history usually presaged an invasion or military attack.
Three of the countries are fellow members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which is the regional economic co-operation bloc with Qatar. All are members of the Arab League. Neither the Arab League nor the GCC seem able to douse the flames, indeed, they did not even seem to have made any discernible effort.
Trouble began on the 5th of June when almost simultaneously the four countries, with Maldives, all separately announced they were breaking diplomatic relations with Qatar. Additionally, Saudi Arabia closed its borders with Qatar and banned Qatar Airways from flying over its territory. It also warned its banks to halt all transactions with Qatar’s banks and not to trade in Qatar’s currency, the Qatar riyals.
The four countries ordered their citizens in Qatar to return and Qatar citizens in theirs to leave. Bahrain and Egypt gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours ultimatum to leave. Qatar’s troops taking part in alliance with Saudi-Arabia in the war in Yemen were asked to withdraw while the Yemeni government also cut ties from Qatar. Qatar visitors to the three Gulf States and residents were given two weeks to leave. The Tobruk-based government of Libya claimed to have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar even though it had no representation in Qatar. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland announced that it, too, has ruptured diplomatic ties with Qatar in solidarity with Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. By June 10, nine countries had severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and five other countries have downgraded their relations with Qatar.
The four countries put forward 13 conditions which must be met in full by Qatar in 10 days. The ultimatum expired on Monday but through the intervention of Kuwait which is acting as mediator, the deadline was extended by 48 hours.
First, Al-Jazeera Media Network must be closed down with its affiliate stations. Al-Jazeera is, perhaps, the one TV network in the Third World that is worth the name. Second, Qatar must close other news outlets that Qatar funds directly and indirectly, including Arabi 21, Middle East Eye, etc. Third, Qatar must close the Turkish military base and terminate the Turkish military presence and any joint military co-operation with Turkey inside Qatar. Fourth, reduce diplomatic relations with Iran; only trade with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
Fifth, Qatar must announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. Sixth, surrender all designated terrorists in Qatar and stop all funding for organizations designated as terrorists. Seventh, End interference in the four countries’ domestic and foreign affairs and having contact with their political opposition.
Eighth, stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from the four countries. Ninth, Revote Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws. Tenth, payment of reparations for years of alleged wrongs. Eleventh, monitoring for 10 years. Twelfth, align with other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014. Thirteenth, expel any member of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps) and cut off military and intelligence co-operation with Iran.
By Wednesday, Qatar had submitted its official response which was still to be published. Its first public response was that the demands were neither reasonable nor actionable. Iran denounced the blockade; President Donald Trump praised it, while his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said some of the demands would be very hard to meet but encouraged dialogue.
The consequences are still coming in but the Qatari riyal fell to an 11-year low, Qatar’s stock fell 7.3 per cent on the first day of sanctions and reached 9.7 per cent two days later. The friends of Qatar, Iran and Turkey, have decided to make up for the loss of supplies from Saudi Arabia. Turkey has promised the supply of food and water because Qatar produces only one per cent of its food. Iran has provided air access. Thus the intended total cut off of Qatar from the rest of the world seems to have failed. It means greater costs, however, as the Qatari airlines have to do a detour from Iran to many of its destinations.
Qatar and Saudi Arabia had been in a kind of unequal friendship for long in which Qatar was more like a vassal. But a definite point seems to have been reached in 2006 when Qatar was the only UN Security Council member to vote against a Security Council Resolution 1696 calling on Iran to half its nuclear enrichment programme to the great annoyance of the Saudis. Secondly, Qatar and Iran share the ownership of the largest natural gas field in the world which made its cooperation with Iran imperative. Thirdly, the ideological differences between the Saudis and the Qataris seem deep enough that since 1995 when Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani took over power and began to steer a more independent course, the relationship of the two countries have gone through series of disputes. In 2002, the Saudis withdrew their ambassador for six years to get Qatar to steer a less individualistic course. It did not work. Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood whereas the Saudis and other Gulf states view the Brotherhood as a threat since ideologically the Brotherhood opposes hereditary rule, which is the cornerstone of the feudal society of the Saudi Kingdom and all such societies. In 2011, during the Arab Springs which saw the overthrow of the backward Arab governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the two sides found themselves on opposite sides of the contest. In Egypt, the Saudis sided with President Hosni Mubarak while Qatar was with the revolutionaries. Bahrain survived the Arab Springs by the whiskers.
Perhaps the most problematic demand of the four countries was the closing down of the Aljazeera Network, a network that has won worldwide acclaim for its enlightened and, often, fair journalism. Indeed, it symbolizes the typical wish of backward dictatorships opposed to freedom of expression, transparency and democratic rule. It is no surprise they found common cause with President Donald Trump if not with Rex Tillerson.