All you need to know about the Qatar-Gulf crisis

Sandarbha Desk
Sandarbha Desk

On May 23, 2017, Qatar woke up to news of a hack attributing false statements to the emir of Qatar.

The fake news was aired on several UAE and Saudi-owned networks in the Gulf.

This sparked a series of diplomatic breakdowns between the GCC countries.

The latest developments include severing of diplomatic ties between three Gulf states and Qatar, an embargo imposed on Qatar, with air, sea and land borders shut down, and Qatari diplomats and residents expelled from those Gulf countries.

Here is a breakdown of the latest diplomatic crisis and what it entails for the region.

What is the GCC?

  • GCC stands for the Gulf Cooperation Council.
  • This is a political and economic alliance of countries in the Arabian peninsula.
  • These are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
  • It was established in 1981 and its aim is to enhance cooperation and close relations among its members.

When did Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut ties with Qatar?

  • The announcements came in the early morning (5:50am, or 02:50 GMT) of June 5, 2017.
  • Bahrain was the first to announce the severing of ties, it was followed shortly after by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt made their announcements within 10 minutes.
  • A few days later, Jordan also announced that it will scale back its diplomatic ties to Qatar and shut down the Al Jazeera bureau in Amman.

Why are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cutting ties with Qatar?

  • The four countries have cited their concern over the security and stability of their nations, claiming that Qatar works to support “terrorism” and to meddle in the internal affairs of its brethren in the GCC.

What does the cutting of ties entail?

  • The severing of ties as a diplomatic concept usually entails a recall of diplomatic representatives and the closing of diplomatic missions by the country that is taking the step.
  • The country initiating the move can also ask the diplomatic representatives of the other party to leave their country.
  • This is usually utilised by governments at times of serious complications in relations between states.
  • In the case of the current Gulf crisis, several other dimensions have been added.
  • Bahrain and Egypt both gave Qatari embassies 48 hours to implement their respective departure orders, while recalling their own diplomats and charge d’affaires.
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia gave Qatari citizens who are residents in or visiting the UAE two weeks to depart.
  • They have also ordered their citizens in Qatar to return.
  • Saudi Arabia went further, withdrawing Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen, in which Saudi Arabia is leading the campaign.
  • Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt closing land, air and sea passage to all vessels and vehicles coming from or going to Qatar.

What was Qatar’s response to this?

  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar responded to the announcements yesterday, saying that there is “no legitimate justification” for the actions taken by the four countries to sever diplomatic relations.
  • It added that the decision is a “violation of its sovereignty” and that it will work to ensure that it does not affect the citizens and residents of Qatar.

Which countries are with Qatar?

  • This question isn’t entirely accurate; it would be more a matter of what countries have severed their diplomatic relations with Qatar.
  • To date, these are the countries that have severed relations: Bahrain, Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Maldives, the United Arab Emirates, the Khalifa Haftar government of Libya, the internationally recognised government of Yemen.
  • There are 94 diplomatic missions still open and operating in Qatar, one representative office, and 34 countries that maintain their diplomatic relations with Qatar via a regional accredited embassy.

How long will Qatar’s border stay closed?

  • Nobody knows how long the land, air and sea boundary closures will remain in effect, as they have been implemented by the four countries mentioned above, and have not been reciprocated by Qatar.

What are the roots of this conflict?

  • There was a previous diplomatic rift in 2014 between Qatar and other Gulf countries.
  • Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain pulled out their diplomats claiming that Qatar supported armed groups.
  • However, the border remained open and Qataris were not expelled.
  • Tensions with Qatar have generally revolved around its alleged support for political Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as complaints about the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is based in Doha.
  • These tensions were possibly exacerbated by the Arab Spring in 2011, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar were seen as backing different sides.
  • On June 7, 2017, the Saudi foreign minister said that Qatar must cease its support of groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Is the GCC going to survive?

  • Kuwait’s emir is mediating between the GCC countries involved in the current dispute.
  • The emir is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia to attempt to bridge the gap.
  • According to Giorgio Cafiero of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, DC, both Kuwaitis and Omanis believe that an escalation of the conflict could be detrimental to the future of the GCC.

What are the consequences for people living in Qatar?

  • In response to the closing of borders, people in Qatar flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food just in case the fallout drags on.
  • There was also a surge of people at currency exchange kiosks, but the banks in Qatar seemed to be unfazed. Bank managers reported nothing out of the ordinary.
  • Qatar’s estimated $335bn of assets in its sovereign wealth fund, along with its newly expanded port that allows it to continue exporting natural gas and importing sea goods, the small Gulf nation could weather the sanctions.
  • Qatar’s main stock index fell more than seven percent.
  • Due to their heavy reliance on oil and gas exports, the GCC states maintain weak trade and investment ties with each other, which will limit the economic effects of their dispute.

Can Qatar Airways fly over Saudi airspace?

  • No. Qatar Airways flights will be taking an easterly route to fly only over airspace that is open to them.

Are flight routes affected?

  • Qatar Airways’ flight routes will be the most disrupted if Gulf airspaces are closed off.
  • There are two main air routes in and out of Qatar – over Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with the latter controlling most of the Gulf airspace.

Is Iran using this as an opportunity to gain Qatar as an ally?

  • Following the borders shutdown, Iran offered Qatar food shipments which can reach Doha in 12 hours.
  • Several Iranian officials have called for dialogue and mediation. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson said that the tensions would only threaten the interests of everyone in the region.
  • A lengthy dispute may empower Iran in the region, especially if the tension between the Gulf countries escalates.

How is the Trump administration involved?

  • The GCC rift does follow Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met leaders of the Arab world. The night before Trump’s visit, the former US defence secretary, Robert Gates, offered a scathing assault on Qatar, criticised its support for “Islamists”.
  • The speech was delivered at a high-profile Washington conference, where Gates said, “Tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base”.
  • After the dispute, the White House stated that Trump wants to help sort out the diplomatic rift.
  • Trump later on tweeted about the dispute, alleging that Arab leaders pointed to Qatar as the source of funding for extremism.

Is Israel involved?

  • The only statement to come out of Israel regarding the situation was from Israel Defence Minister who said the split between the Gulf countries “opens possibilities for cooperation in the battle against terrorism” as it shows “that even in the Arab states they understand that the danger is not Zionism, but terrorism”.

Source: Al Jazeera

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