On the morning of June 5, four countries, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), and Saudi Arabia cut all ties with Qatar. A few days later, the Maldives, Yemen, and Libya followed suit. Not only have diplomatic ties been cut, air, sea and land borders have also been closed. Qatar residents living in these Gulf countries have been expelled and have been given 14 days to return to their home country. Another major issue is that the air space has been taken away from Qatar, which means that any Qatar Airways flight cannot fly over Saudi Arabia or any of these countries. This is a big problem because there are two routes that fly you out of Qatar, one goes through Bahrain and the other through Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have alleged that Qatar has been backing and funding terrorist and extremist organizations including The Muslim Brotherhood which is banned in various countries. Another reason could be traced back to Doha’s sponsorship of the news channel “Al Jazeera”, which is often critical of the Egyptian and Saudi authorities. The sudden move came after various Qatari News channels were found quoting the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, directly criticising Saudi and its foreign policy. Media houses claim that they had been hacked, but as it turns out Saudi did not believe the hacking claims. The sudden ouster of Qatar came is also being linked to Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia. In one of his tweets, he said that his visit is “already paying off”. Experts believe another reason for this sudden reaction was Qatar’s improved relations with Iran, which has always locked horns against Saudi.
This was not an unprecedented step either. In 2014 as well, Saudi, Bahrain and UAE cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar by calling their diplomats back. The situation stayed the same for the next eight months. Even then, Saudi had blamed Qatar for supporting and funding extremists. But there is a huge difference between then and now. Borders were not shut down in 2014, nor were the Qatar residents living in these countries asked to go back to their home country. The stand has been stricter and stronger this time around.
The repercussions of this diplomatic standstill between the GCC countries can be very serious. The immediate effects will be felt on matters relating to food security in Qatar. Almost 40% of Qatar’s food supply comes from Saudi. With the borders shut down, people have gone into panic mode and have started stocking their houses with food, although Iran has already volunteered to provide food shipments within 12 hours. In the long term, the 2022 FIFA world cup, which is scheduled to take place in Qatar, will bear the brunt of this standoff, if the situation doesn’t improve. The supply of raw materials for the construction works will also come to a halt. Qatar is also one of the biggest importers of oil and natural gas around the world and this can have serious implications on the world economy, as it will hinder the worldwide supply of these commodities.
On June 8, the five countries released a list of 59 individuals and 12 organizations which are allegedly linked to or funded by Qatar. For a calm and peaceful West Asia, the countries need to make up. Kuwait, one of the two GCC countries to not have cut off ties with Qatar, has already volunteered to mediate between Qatar and Saudi. The Emir of Kuwait is scheduled to visit Saudi later this month and then to Qatar to resolve diplomatic tensions. Turkey and Iran have also called for diplomatic measures to end the latest crisis. The US involvement in the entire scenario is still not clear, but the experts are almost certain that Trump did play a part, basically to corner Iran. Although the base of the US-led coalition against ISIS is in Qatar, this did not stop Saudi from taking such a bold step. Whatever the reasons may have been, other Gulf countries need to intervene and take measured diplomacy steps to restore tranquillity and peace in the region.