The recent decision made by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE to sever all ties with Qatar has had far-reaching consequences. The countries have expelled Qatari nationals, blocked Qatari websites and refused to allow Qatari aircraft to fly over their territories.
In this opinion piece, Mohammed Al-Jufairi explains the purpose of the blockade, and why he believes it will ultimately fail.
This past Ramadan will always be remembered as the month we were betrayed by our neighbors.
It will also be remembered as the month in which Qatar’s leadership was tested, and won.
On June 5, 2017, an illegal siege of Qatar took place.
As a result, thousands of families were torn apart. Most GCC nationals have relatives in at least one other GCC country, so mothers were separated from their children, and husbands separated from their wives.
This siege was so dramatic and sudden, that people questioned the motives behind it.
Particularly at a time of relative peace, a time where the news of US President Donald Trump’s “successful” Saudi visit still made headlines, and at a time when the GCC seemed to be closer than ever.
Let’s be honest – the siege of Qatar was imposed for no justifiable reason.
No demands or grievances by the three countries were ever discussed openly before that fateful day.
In fact, I believe that the common denominator between all accusations made of Qatar is that they are baseless.
Money is the motivator
So then, why did the siege of Qatar take place, and what do they want from Qatar?
The answer: Liquefied Natural Gas. We have lots it.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is bleeding money over its failed war in Yemen, is suffering from falling oil prices and has a growing budget deficit.
Not to the mention the terrible living conditions of a large portion of the population living on state welfare.
So, Saudi must find a quick and easy way to make money – and the answer is to annex Qatar.
As a result of this month’s blockade, Qataris were forcibly expelled from the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi.
Saudi Arabia also expelled thousands of camels across the Qatari border. Hundreds of them were crushed to death trying to cross the narrow pathway allocated for these desert beasts.
But Qatar has not retaliated. Because, to quote Michelle Obama, when they go low, we go high.
Qatar’s borders remain open to the citizens of these countries, and its human rights group rushed to protect the men, women and children who were stranded and separated from one another.
Qatar’s government also urged residents to show respect to the Gulf Cooperation Council and refrain from insulting or attacking in kind.
Finally, its airspace has remained open for all planes to fly through, and the gas pipeline between Qatar and Abu Dhabi remains flowing, lighting up homes and businesses in the UAE.
One benefit of the siege is that it has given Qatar an opportunity to test its preparedness for such a crisis.
It had a taste of what was to come in 2014, when Saudi, the UAE and Bahrain temporarily severed diplomatic ties.
That crisis was resolved thanks to Kuwaiti mediation. But Qatar also responded afterwards by investing in new livestock and agricultural facilities, and decreasing its dependence on the Saudi Arabian border, in case anything happened again.
Investments in the state-owned carrier Qatar Airways, the massive Hamad International Airport and the new Hamad Port have also helped, as has the opening of the Ruwais Port to the north.
Within hours of the siege beginning, food products from Qatar’s GCC neighbors were replaced by tastier dairy products from Turkey and London, fruit and vegetables from Iran and Lebanon and livestock from Australia.
Cows got first class tickets to Qatar, and business is booming more than ever. World Cup stadiums are moving forward using a year’s worth of reserve construction equipment. Business-wise, the siege is a failure.
Clearly the actions taken by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt to isolate Qatar are not meant to be temporary. They are there to cause permanent damage.
After all, if you want to invade a country, you must first create a “legitimate” reason for it and sell it to your population. Otherwise, your own population will question their leadership.
You do not resort to such unprecedented extreme measures simply to send a warning to your neighbor. You would however resort to these draconian measures as a prelude to invading them.
But what made this conflict escalate exponentially was the UAE and Saudi’s dramatic shift of the cultural norm.
They launched an all-out media war on Qatar on all fronts.
Instead of showing respect for each other’s heads of state, they used nasty rhetoric and insulting cartoons, and ran Hollywood-style horror documentaries on all state television channels.
It became easier for citizens of the three blockade countries to believe the fake news, as they had no way of seeing the other side, because all Qatari channels were blocked.
Meanwhile, however, Qatar’s native and expat populations have grown closer than ever.
Qatari citizens have started removing their tribal names on social media, and replacing them with “Al-Qatari” – meaning the Qatari. All citizens became one tribe, that of Qatar.
Expats have also joined Qataris in proudly flying Qatari flags, promoting national food and dairy products and defending Qatar against false and ridiculous accusations.
After all, people in Qatar are free to make their own decisions and express their own feelings. And they all choose Qatar.
Qatar is not up for grabs. We will not allow anyone to colonize us, and dictate how we do our business.
This crisis has taught us an important lesson – how to carefully carve our future paths by exposing our threats and finding our friends.
Who better to explain Qatar’s future than the Emir, who previously said:
“We don’t live on the sidelines of life, we don’t take direction (from anyone), and this independent behavior is one of our established facts.”
Qatar has won this battle already.