On the 5th of June, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt (all Gulf countries), cut ties with Qatar because of reports that Qatar had allegedly been sponsoring various Islamic armed groups and Iran. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt published a list of 59 people and 12 groups with links to Qatar late on Thursday 8th June, alleging that they have ties to “terrorism.”
Qatar, however, denied these accusations but this has not stopped the on-going diplomatic crisis that has risen among the Arab nations.
Series of events have taken place over the past week and various African Muslim countries have pledged their alliance and taken sides in this on-going rift.
Among other African countries, Senegal was first to recall its ambassador from Qatar’s capital Doha. Chad and Mauritania followed too, and over the weekend Niger announced it was doing the same. More and more African Muslim majority countries are severing ties with Qatar citing solidarity with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.
Experts say that this diplomatic tiff which has threatened the stability of the Gulf is one of the worst in decades.
“The Muslim majority nations in Africa feel that they need to make a decision for or against Qatar,” Annette Weber, an expert on the Middle East and Africa at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs said.
Weber reiterated that the choice whether to side with Qatar or the rest of the Arab nations could later deeply affect the African countries. “Sudan and Eritrea, for instance, are members of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, however, they both have very close ties to Qatar,” Weber said. Qatar is one of the main sponsors for Sudan’s Darfur mediation. “Most countries in Africa have ties with Qatar and not many of them have strong feelings against it.”
Through this alienation and divisions, Somalia and Sudan have remained neutral.
Abdi Halane Hirsi, a senior Somali diplomat said his country had issued a statement calling on all parties to resolve the impasse through dialogue.
“We shall not end ties with either Saudi Arabia or Qatar,” Mr Hirsi said. He rejected allegations that Saudi Arabia was suspending aid worth $50 million (44 million euros) until the Horn of Africa nation severs ties with Qatar. Somalia has also offered to help resolve the crisis.
Effect on Qatar’s import-dependent economy
Amidst the past weeks’ sanctions and hiccups, Qatar’s stock exchange shows modest recovery this week. Qatar’s index, beaten down by the economic sanctions by other Gulf Arab states, rebounded 0.4 percent on Wednesday in a broad-based rally; 23 stocks gained and only seven dropped.
Gulf stock markets were mostly changed a little, although amusement park operator DXB Entertainments led Dubai higher and Dana Gas continued its surge in Abu Dhabi.
The oil and gas-rich Arab country had planned to reach peak construction on the eight state-of-the-art World Cup stadiums and major supporting infrastructure including a new Doha Metro system this year and next.
This dream seems to be facing major challenges as this diplomatic rift between the Gulf countries threatens to derail the £160bn building programme the country needs to finish to be ready to host the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar faces various travel and economic sanctions from its neighbouring countries and these sanctions will go a long way in stifling construction processes.
Qatar’s on-going actions
About 450 Qatari peacekeeping troops were pulled back from the border between Djibouti and Eritrea, two East African nations who have a long-running dispute over the territory.
Both Djibouti and Eritrea have good relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have taken their side in the Gulf split.
On Wednesday 14th June, Djibouti reduced its level of diplomatic relations with Qatar over the regional diplomatic crisis.
Also, Reuters reports that Qatar, being the world’s second largest helium producer, has closed its two helium production plants because of the economic boycott imposed on it by its neighbours.
Various countries weigh in
- On Tuesday 13th, after Senior US officials met leading players in the standoff, the State Department said progress has been made towards resolving the crisis between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours.
“I would characterise the mood and the approach to that as being one that is hopeful, that believes that the worst is behind us,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert.
- Also, Jordan’s King Abdullah II visited Kuwait on Tuesday to discuss the crises of the region with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, according to Kuwait’s official KUNA news agency.
“The two sides discussed means of promoting Arab unity and joint action, along with the importance of reaching political solutions to the region’s crises,” KUNA reported.
- Sources have it that Moroccan King Mohammed VI has expressed his “full support” for ongoing efforts by Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Jaber al Sabah to resolve the Gulf crisis.
“In his message, the Moroccan King stressed the importance of containing the Gulf crisis and resolving differences through dialogue between brotherly countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council,” Kuwait’s official news agency reported.
- Russia’s Vladimir Putin not being left out warned that the blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies would make it harder to reach a peaceful end to the war in Syria after he discussed with the Saudi King Salman.
Also, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Arab states were now viewing Israel as a partner instead of an enemy.
Despite the trying moments Qatar faces even with restricted airspaces from its neighbouring countries, Turkey and Iran opened their airspace to more Qatar flights. Both countries also offered food shipments after a rush for items was reported in many Qatari grocery shops in the immediate aftermath of the rift.
The conditions are still stiff but the Qatari government is determined to make it out of these trying times. With all the interventions, there is a great possibility that the other Gulf countries will see reason and ease the sanctions on Qatar.