Four months since Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, little progress has been made towards a resolution.
On May 23, 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, sparking a diplomatic breakdown.
The Saudi-led group imposed an embargo on Qatar, with air, sea and land borders shut down, and Qatari diplomats and residents were expelled from the blockading countries. Despite calls for a resolution, the countries remain at an impasse.
Here is a breakdown of how the diplomatic crisis has unfolded and what it entails for the region.
The announcements came in the early morning (5:50am local time, or 02:50 GMT) of June 5, 2017. Bahrain was the first to announce the severing of ties, followed shortly after by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.
A few days later, Jordan also announced that it would scale back its diplomatic ties with Qatar and shut down the Al Jazeera bureau in Amman.
The four countries have claimed that Qatar works to support “terrorism”, maintains cordial relations with Iran and meddles in the internal affairs of their countries.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar responded to the initial announcements by saying that there was “no legitimate justification” for the actions taken by the four countries to sever diplomatic relations. It added that the decision was a “violation of its sovereignty” and that it would work to ensure that it would not affect the citizens and residents of Qatar.
Throughout, Qatar has strongly rejected the accusations levelled against it, viewing the campaign as an attempt to impose custodianship over the tiny nation.
Both the emir of Qatar and the country’s foreign minister have reiterated that Qatar is willing to negotiate with the boycotting countries, and have welcomed calls from international leaders for the parties to sit down around a table.
“The countries who imposed the blockade on the state of Qatar interfere in the internal affairs of many countries, and accuse all those who oppose them domestically and abroad with terrorism. By doing so, they are inflicting damage on the war on terror,” Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said in a speech to the UN General Assembly in September. “We have refused to yield to dictations by pressure and siege.”
There was a previous diplomatic rift in 2014 between Qatar and other Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, the 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, the Saudi foreign minister said that Qatar must cease its support of groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We want to see Qatar implement the promises it made a few years back with regard to its support of extremist groups, to its hostile media and interference in affairs of other countries,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Paris in June.
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 were residents in or visiting the UAE two weeks to depart and ordered their citizens in Qatar to return.
Saudi Arabia went further, withdrawing Qatari troops from the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have also closed land, air and sea passage to all vessels and vehicles coming from or going to Qatar.
The blockade has disrupted business, education and transport links among Qatar and its neighbours, while also tearing apart families whose members held different passports. By mid-September, Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee had received 3,346 complaints, 620 of which were from families affected by the measures.
The 10 countries that have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar are:
- Saudi Arabia
- Eastern government of Libya
- Senegal (ambassador later restored)
In addition, Jordan, Djibouti, Chad and Niger downgraded diplomatic relations with Qatar.
There are 89 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.
Correction: An earlier version of this graphic incorrectly stated that Eritrea severed ties with Qatar. Eritrea denies this. pic.twitter.com/3qkTdN4tqP
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) June 29, 2017
Nobody knows how long the land, air and sea boundary closures will remain in effect, as they have been implemented by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt. Qatar has not reciprocated.
Several world leaders have called for the parties to this dispute to begin a process of negotiations in order to end the stalemate. Diplomatic efforts have abounded, including by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and French President Emmanuel Macron, who has appointed a special envoy to address the crisis.
Kuwait’s emir has been an active mediator from the beginning of the crisis, travelling from one Gulf capital to the next in an attempt to bridge the gap between the blockading countries and Qatar.
GCC stands for Gulf Cooperation Council. This is a political and economic alliance of countries in the Arabian peninsula including 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.
Is the GCC going to survive?
Kuwait’s emir has been mediating between the GCC countries involved in the current dispute. According to Giorgio Cafiero of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, both Kuwaitis and Omanis believe that an escalation of the conflict could be detrimental to the future of the GCC.
With 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 appears poised to weather the sanctions.
Due to their heavy reliance on oil and gas exports, the GCC states maintain weak trade and investment ties with each other, limiting the economic effects of their dispute.
Qatar Airways flights initially had to take an easterly route to fly only over airspace that was open to them.
However, in August, the International Civil Aviation Organization approved some new routes for Qatar Airways that would allow it to cut through Emirati and Bahraini airspace. This was based on an application presented by Qatar to the international aviation body.
According to Alan Peaford, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Magazine, Qatar Airways’ flight routes would be the most disrupted if Gulf airspaces were closed off. He noted that there were two main air routes in and out of Qatar – over Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, with the latter controlling most of the Gulf airspace. “The real problem would be if airspace closes. Not just for Qatar Airways passengers, but also for cargo, like food and fresh fruit that is flown into the country.”
The GCC rift followed US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia in May, 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, criticising 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 wanted to help sort out the diplomatic rift.
Israel Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman 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