A historical account of the animosity that exists between Qatar and its neighbours
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, along with their allies including Egypt, cut all diplomatic ties with Qatar recently. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also placed on notice all Qatari citizens to leave their shores within two weeks.
The countries also halted all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar. Moreover, Qatar would be expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, the coalition declared.
As a result, Qatar Airways suspended all flights to neighbouring Saudi Arabia while the Abu Dhabi-owned Etihad Airways, Dubai-based Emirates Airline and budget carrier flydubai suspended all flights to Qatar. What’s more, Egyptian airspace was closed to Qatari aircraft.
Shortly after the announcement, Qatar’s stock market plummeted by 7.5 percent. The fallout could be detrimental to the country’s ongoing construction work in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The move could also impact other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations that rely on liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from Qatar.
These severe measures were the last resort to pressurise the small Gulf nation to cooperate and align its foreign policy with those of its more powerful GCC partners like Saudi Arabia.
But skirmishes between Qatar and its neighbours are not new to the region.
When the Gulf Cooperation Council was formed in 1981 in response to the Iranian Revolution in 1979, Qatar had already been in conflict with other nations in the region.
When the country was established in 1868 under the rule of the Al Thani family,it had taken over the Hawar Islands that were owned by Bahrain, which had been under the Al Khalifa family since 1783. This territorial dispute nearly led to a conflict in 1986 and full diplomatic relations were not restored until 1997.
Qatar also came into conflict with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over undefined borders and the two nations supported opposing sides of the Yemeni civil war of 1994. And the Qatari delegation was outraged and stormed out of the summit when a Saudi was appointed Secretary General of the GCC in 1995.
Another ongoing conflict between Qatar and countries in the region is its state-owned news channel Al Jazeera that was founded in 1996, which often criticises other GCC regimes. In 2002, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador from Doha in response to Al Jazeera’s coverage of domestic affairs in the kingdom – an issue that took as many as five years to resolve.
Similarly, in the Arab Spring of 2011, Qatar took the opposing side, most significantly in Egypt where it supported the Muslim Brotherhood government that was elected in 2012. This led to a diplomatic fallout with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
In addition to the long history of conflict involving Qatar, the current crisis is multifaceted in many ways.
Saudi Arabia is already enraged by a recent nuclear deal inked by the United States with its regional rival Iran, which the Saudis perceive as a stab in the back by Uncle Sam. Moreover, the deal also relieved Iran from implementing oil production cuts with which GCC countries were obliged to comply.
While Saudi Arabia may have been encouraged by US President Donald Trump’s position on Iran during his visit to the Middle East, Qatar has also been emboldened by other prospective allies. Shortly before the diplomatic fallout, Al Jazeera reportedly quoted the Qatari Emir praising Iran, which led to the blocking of Qatari-based media across the Arab world. Qatar however, claims that the TV channel was hacked.
Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani made things worse by calling the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his reelection on 19 May. The Qatari government has reportedly been communicating with its counterparts in Ankara and Moscow, two foreign players that have increasingly been involved in the region.
Not only does Qatar own 20 percent of the Russian state-owned integrated oil company Rosneft but it shares the North Field with Iran’s South Pars, which is the world’s largest natural gas field.
Russia, Turkey and Iran rushed to Qatar’s defence against Saudi Arabia. In fact, when the situation between Qatar and the Saudis escalated, the Qatari ambassador in Moscow scheduled an urgent meeting with Russia’s foreign minister.
Once the dispute was made public, Qatar received food from Iran through nearby Iranian ports and planeloads were dispatched by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who also deployed troops to train the military. And Qatari naval vessels are docked at Omani ports while Kuwait has been speaking in favour of Doha.
Meanwhile, the situation with Qatar is becoming increasingly complicated for the United States. Regardless of Trump’s tweet in which he praised the bold move by the Saudis, American officials realise how critical Qatar is for them and have been working tirelessly to ease tensions.
This is because Qatar is home to the headquarters of the United States Central Command that manages all US military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. In fact, it includes the Al Udeid Air Base from where the US-led fight against ISIS operates and where the United States has some 11,000 military personnel deployed. Washington is surely worried that this could fall into the hands of its archenemy Moscow.