On 5th June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt all broke diplomatic ties with Qatar. In the image above, you can see the Saudi Arabian king sitting on the right and the Emir of Qatar on the left; both wearing tea towels.
Saudi Arabia have now been joined by Yemen, the eastern government of Libya, the Maldives, Mauritania and Senegal. Jordan and Djibouti have downgraded their diplomatic ties with Qatar.
Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman, is quoted in Monday’s FT this week as saying that the Gulf countries that have joined forces in exiling Qatar is in effect a form of ‘collective punishment’ and a form of behaviour that he wouldn’t even expect from an enemy, let alone a fellow member of OPEC.
What are the accusations?
The countries that have ganged up against Qatar allege that they support terrorism. They are also critical of Qatar’s friendliness to Shi’ite Iran, the ‘regional archival of the Sunni Gulf rulers’ (ME-Confidential). According to Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s relationship with Iran is ‘undermining security in the region’ (Al Jazeera). Saudi Arabia are further saying that Qatar have helped the Iran backed Houthi rebel group in the 3 year proxy war in Yemen. A ‘proxy war’, for those of you who don’t know, is the term used to describe a war fought between two countries in a different country. Qatar however have also, according to Al Jazeera, sent troops to Yemen to help Saudi Arabia. Qatar have now been expelled from the Saudi led coalition fighting in Yemen, according to CNBC.
In addition, Qatar have given refuge to the former leader of Hamas, the Gaza based Palestinian movement, after he left Syria some time ago. They are also said to have hosted some of the Afghanistan Taliban.
How are Qatar being punished?
An economic and transportation blockade for one thing. The land border with Saudi Arabia has been closed. Many Qatar nationals have had to leave fellow OPEC states and return to their home country as they have not been allowed to stay. Some have had to leave their families. Most of Qatar’s imports and a lot of their food comes from Saudi Arabia; in fact Qatar imports 80% of its food, although not all from Saudi Arabia: the estimate coming from Saudi Arabia is around 40%. Iran have stepped in to help and have sent supplies by air. Turkey have also helped by sending in supplies and Morocco, where President Macron of France met up with King Mohammed VI yesterday, is not far behind. Macron said that the King of Morocco shares his concerns about the dispute and hopes that the countries will soon talk again so that the Gulf remains stable.
The American Perspective
Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, says it’s impairing business and it’s not helping in the US led campaign against Isis in which both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have offered their assistance. Tillerson has urged the Gulf countries to sit down and resolve their differences, as they did in 2014. On that occasion, Qatar relented somewhat and expelled some members of the Egyptian based Muslim Brotherhood that they had admitted into the country. Peter Salisbury’s article for Chatham House (cited below) explains this in a bit more detail.
America has a large military base, the largest US base in the region to be fair, just south of Doha, the capital of Qatar. According to a Foreign Policy update earlier today, it’s not only Saudi Arabia the Americans are signing arms deals with. Late on Wednesday evening, Qatar announced that they too had signed a deal with the Americans: a $12 billion contract with the US government for several dozen Boeing made F15 fighter planes These should take several years to make and Washington say that they just hope the issues can be resolved within that timeframe. The deal was originally reached in the Obama administration and has been sealed between the US Defence Secretary James Mattis and the Qatari Minister of State for Defence Affairs, Dr Khalid al Attiyah. The deal, they say, will create some 60,000 American jobs in 42 states.
That large American military base in Qatar is imperative in the fight against Isis. It is the base from which American military personnel fly out to Iraq. Having the Americans stationed there also serves as a useful deterrent for anyone wishing to attack Qatar; so it’s not just America who benefit from the deal.
Peter Salisbury’s article points out the following:
‘Western powers can’t just pick a side, as both US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – the former CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the biggest investors in Qatar’s gas sector – and Secretary of Defense James Mattis – the former commander of CENTCOM, which depends on the al-Udeid base as a logistical hub for its campaign against ISIS – will be aware’.
Last week President Trump said that he supported the decision of those in the region who had chosen to isolate Qatar. That was a lone voice however; he did not have the vocal support of many in his administration in so doing.
What has Qatar said?
They deny funding terrorist organisations and have said that it is all false. They have said they would happily address actual evidence that was presented to them. They will not expel any foreign nationals who live in Qatar, irrespective of where they are from. Nor they intend to return the animosity towards them in kind. They have a pipeline that delivers natural gas to the United Arab Emirates, providing them with around 40% of the power they require. Despite the UAE’s alignment with Saudi Arabia, Qatar have said that they will not cut off the supply.
Qatar is the world’s top seller of liquefied natural gas, abbreviated in the industry to LNG. Qatar has several gas fields within its territorial waters and in April this year, they announced that they would be boosting output in the world’s largest gas field: the ‘North Dome’. This is situated off the Gulf state’s northern coast which Qatar shares with Iran. ‘South Pars’ is the name for Iran’s share of the gas field. The Qatar/Iran border is in the middle of the Persian Gulf between Qatar and Iran. Here is an image from Al Jazeera so you can see where the split lies yourself:
This morning I watched a ‘Webinar’ (something new that Chatham House are trying) on the Crisis in the Gulf. The issue of LNG was raised. Transport and shipping could be an issue if Saudi Arabia are trying to make things difficult but nonetheless, the majority of Qatar’s customers are not based in the Middle East or North Africa. They are further afield so Qatar is not going to become poor any time soon. Qatar, by the way, owns billions of pounds worth of London property, according to Peter Salisbury. It also owns Harrods and the Shard. You will know those. And let us not forget that they will be hosting the World Cup in 2022.
The Dolphin pipeline is the largest and longest gas pipeline in the Middle East. You can see the route that it takes here:
Human rights organisations and what they have to say
James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty International’s global issues programme, quoted in Monday’s FT: ‘For potentially thousands of people across the Gulf, the effect of the steps imposed in the wake of this political dispute is suffering, heartbreak and fear’.
How long is all of this going to go on for?
As I said, Qatar are not economically reliant on the countries who have shunned them and as yet, they have not backed down. Back in 2014, the then Saudi Arabian King tried to put pressure on Qatar and told them that they had to tow the line and rein in the Qatari based media network Al Jazeera. Some concessions were made although nothing in terms of Qatar’s overall policy.
What about Oman? Where are they in all of this?
According to the Chatham House webinar this morning: ‘sitting quietly in the corner’. They have been heavily criticised in the past by their Gulf Arab neighbours for having overly friendly relations with Iran. Oman has never had great relations with the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Is this the end for the GCC?
This is one of the questions that came up in the webinar. The answer is, if you are from Qatar, that things are never going to be the same again. One of the reasons the union was initially formed was as a sort of defence against Iran and later on Iraq when things were in turmoil there. The consensus in the Chatham House webinar was that if Saudi Arabia and the UAE manage to get what they want, i.e. Qatar towing the line, then all will be fine. However, we have yet to see whether or not that is going to happen.
A bit more on the GCC for those of you who do not know it
The GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) is a regional and political organisation comprising the energy rich Gulf monarchies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Whilst Qatar is part of this alliance, (which is more or less Saudi led), they are not bound by it and are also happy to work with Iran and their Shiite allies. Qatar have played both sides in regional power disputes now for a while.
The Middle East Eye gives a good description of the GCC:
‘Western analysts originally attributed its foundation to security concerns, which have always plagued the Gulf monarchies, but the founding charter focused more on issues of social and cultural cohesion, environmental and scientific coordination and economic cooperation’.
The article from the Middle East Eye was written in April 2014 but when I was reading it, I could see that the issue with Qatar is not a new thing. It also gave some useful insight into Oman’s stance in the past. Here is what I read:
‘In March , Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain made the shock decision to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing Doha of meddling in the internal affairs of other GCC countries, a reference widely interpreted as a reference to Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia classifies as a terrorist organisation. Oman chose to stay neutral while Kuwait has attempted to mediate, but the incident is the most open and likely the biggest ever GCC rift. Previously most disputes have been resolved behind closed doors’.
A lot has changed since then in that the then Saudi Arabian king died late in 2015 and has now been replaced by someone who is taking a more hard line stance vis-a-vis getting neighbouring countries to fall into line.
Here is a useful timeline on the situation that is regularly updated. Bear in mind it has been produced by the Qatari based media outlet Al-Jazeera:
Vox News explain the crisis in Qatar, 6.6.17. This is a very good article, very simple, and goes into further detail than I do in terms of other things that have happened in the past that have added to the increased tensions:
The FT, published paper Monday 12th June, online dated 11.6.17, ‘Gulf states reconsider threat to expel Qataris’:
The FT, 5.6.17, ‘What’s behind the Gulf dispute with Qatar?’:
CNBC, 6.6.17, Qatar has no plans to cut of supplies of gas to the UAE through the Dolphin pipeline:
CNBC, 6.6.17, ‘What the Qatar-GCC feud means for the United States’:
Bloomberg on the pipeline, 7.6.17:
Reuters, 12.6.17, ‘Qatar-Saudi land border deserted’:
Middle East Confidential, 15.6.17, ‘Gulf Crisis Discussed at Moroccan-French Summit in Rabat’:
Middle East Eye Explainer, April 2014, ‘What is the GCC?’:
Peter Salisbury who took part in the Chatham House webinar earlier today, offers his views, ‘In Qatar -v- Saudi Arabia, the West Can’t Afford to Pick a Side’, 7.6.17:
The Guardian also published Peter Salisbury’s article on 6.6.17:
Featured Image Source:
The featured image is of the Saudi Arabian King and the Emir of Qatar. It is taken from the Vox News article I have cited above.
Internal Image Source:
The route of the Dolphin pipeline:
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