Qatar’s Isolation

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

July 7, 2017

It has now been more than two weeks since Qatar was sanctioned by its neighbors, who have accused it of pursuing a destabilizing foreign policy. But despite brief food shortages, Qatar is in no imminent danger of economic or political collapse. So regional observers continue to spill ink trying to predict how the stand-off will end. Most are convinced that the status quo is likely to continue for some time, and even should things change, there is an expectation that it will be difficult to restore the regional dynamic to where it was prior to Qatar’s isolation.


Qatar’s rulers have done their best to show that the country will continue to thrive despite the sanctions that have been put in place by their neighbors. But, as this Kuwait Times report indicates, Qatar’s shipping industry is already feeling the strain: “Port officials said the cutting of transport links by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain with Qatar continues to affect some services. Ships from China’s Shanghai, which normally go through Jebel Ali, have to be re-routed via Iraq, adding seven days to a normally 20-day voyage, one official said. Not all lines have resumed shipping services. China’s COSCO Shipping Lines Co Ltd, Taiwan’s Evergreen and Hong Kong’s OOCL suspended container services to and from Qatar. The closure of land borders is also likely to put pressure on Qatar to ensure continuity of supplies…. [T]ies with Turkey and Iran, which have flown goods into Doha since the boycott, might expand, with Turkish vessels already on their way.”

Despite some voices that have expressed hope the conflict between Qatar and its neighbors may be resolved soon, Arab News’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is convinced that no real progress can be made until Qatar undertakes serious policy changes: “Authorities in Doha complain against the recently-imposed punitive measures made by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE, after their patience ran out amid destabilizing actions Qatar has upheld in the region. These actions began when the former emir, Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, staged a power grab — and they continue to this very day…. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE want Doha to be held accountable for its hostile political agenda. Qatar may endure the diplomatic boycott for a few months, but does not share Iran’s tough skin against embargo. In the end, Qatar will succumb and give up on funding anarchist parties. It will eventually shut down most rabble-rousing media outlets it created when evading commitments it made under the Riyadh Agreement….This time, breaking the ice goes beyond a warm opening of arms or a call for traditional Arab tolerance and kindness. Doha needs to seriously rethink its detrimental policy in the region.”

Discussing Qatar’s “quixotic” foreign policy, Nuray Mert, writing for Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News, wonders if Qatar’s independent streak was a historical blip: “Qatar, which is portrayed as a quixotic little country, [was never] a naive political actor nor [has] ever been in a position to pursue ‘independent’ politics. On the contrary, Sheikh Hamad deposed his father and invented the new politics and the ‘brand’ of Qatar only with the help of his powerful Western allies…. Since then, Qatar has changed its ways; it hosts the biggest U.S. base in the region, founded the controversial Al Jazeera news channel and started its hyper-active foreign politics as a supposedly ‘regional mediator.’ Qatar hosted Muslim Brotherhood leaders, many other opposition figures and even members of the Taliban, all without risking its Western ties; in fact, this small country was encouraged by its powerful allies to play such a role…. Poor Qatar didn’t have enough time to develop any sense of international politics after being spoiled by the powerful for so long…. In short, Qatar’s real mistake was that its rulers took the country’s rise and power as real and for granted.”

One of those “independent” policy choices that Qatar is accused of, according to Jerusalem Post’s David Ibsen, is support for Hamas, despite its poor record in Gaza: “In the 10 years since Hamas forces violently expelled the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip, the terrorist group has brought the coastal enclave to ruin through mismanagement, violence and neglect; an essential service as basic as electricity has been cut to no more than four hours a day. If not for the political and financial lifeline provided by Qatar, Hamas’s rule would likely have collapsed years ago…. It is time for Qatar to recognize Hamas for what it is: a murderous terrorist group that has set back the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and stolen precious resources from the Gazan people…. The responsibility of governance has not moderated Hamas, and the leaders of the Arab world now recognize the disastrous consequences of Hamas’s violent coup. All except one. Despite Hamas’s continued commitment to terrorism and its blatant disregard for the people of Gaza and international institutions, Qatari support for Hamas remains steadfast.”

Qatar’s flagship news channel Al Jazeera, long a thorn in the sides of its neighbors, has gone to great lengths to show that Doha has the support of important allies, including Russia. Although, as its commentator Leonid Issaev puts it, Russia has been careful not to alienate the Saudis or others in the region: “The current GCC crisis has purely regional dimensions that lie in the very nature of the relations between Riyadh and the five monarchies of the Gulf. As such, Russia sees that an intervention in an internal GCC conflict would be very impractical. Taking a side officially could endanger Russia’s energy interests…. Despite the fact that Russia has taken a neutral position from the very first days of the conflict, it still sympathizes with Qatar rather than with Saudi Arabia and its allies. Throughout last week, Moscow and Doha maintained a close dialogue at all levels….In the current situation, there are elements of geopolitical rivalry between Moscow and the United States. While Washington took a pro-Saudi position, Moscow did not fail to use it to get closer to Qatar…. However, all this is only a manifestation of indirect support for Qatar from Moscow, and one should not expect more from Moscow.”

Despite the apparent one-sided nature of the blockade, Mohamed Ameen suggests in a recent op-ed for Egypt Independent that Qatar is not the only country that will emerge bruised from the ongoing stand-off: “The message sent by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain was only to the Emir and did not aim to punish the people. It was possible to hold an emergency Arab summit to discuss the Qatari situation. The Arab League could have frozen the membership of Qatar. But I haven’t read a single remark or seen a single hint yet on the crisis from the Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit! So, where is the Arab League from what is happening in Qatar?… Unfortunately, we will get out ‘wounded’ from this crisis. All sides are wounded. No one is defeated, no one is victorious…. The Qatari people will not be starved by the siege, but they will come out of this situation sad and torn!”

For his part, veteran regional observer Rami Khouri, writing for Jordan Times, remains pessimistic about the prospects of a quick return to a pre-crisis state, arguing that in the context of a region beset by complex issues, an uneasy truce is the best one could hope for: “I would list the following as the players to watch in this respect: foreign big powers (U.S., Russia, for now), regional non-Arab powers (Iran, Turkey, for now), Arabism even in its faded state, Islamism even in its subjugated state, oil-anchored materialistic patriarchy (the energy producers and their dependents, like Egypt), and remnants of former socialist-nationalist-military states in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other places. These actors and a few other smaller ones now wage battle in the open to shape the identities and policies of the existing Arab countries. It is unlikely that any one or two will achieve full victory and dominate the region, as imperial powers did in history. More likely is that most of them will coexist in uneasy truces, as the region gets back to a developmental phase in a no-war context that can resume the socio-economic growth needed to respond to people’s basic needs and thus achieve lasting security and stability.”



  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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