It has been a month since Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Egypt followed by some other Islamic countries decided to boycott and impose sanctions on Qatar for its dangerous and wayward ways. They blocked Qatar’s air corridors, expelled its citizens, recalled their own citizens and closed down their embassies, among other steps.
They claim – with a lot of truth and justification – that Qatar has been harbouring groups and individuals inimical to their interests and to the interests of humanity at large such as allowing mainstream and fringe extremist and terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas to flourish and operate from Qatar and be funded by Doha.
In addition, Al Jazeera TV sponsored by it has been operating from Doha with impunity for many years. Al Jazeera carried insulting, damaging and humiliating reports about Qatar’s neighbouring countries in the name of freedom of the Press. The TV stattion has a lot to answer for, as it has never carried any reportage on Qatar’s own shady deals. Those shady deals include its purchase of the World Cup 2022 rights through bribery and corruption, and its human rights violations such as the cover up of the deaths of hundreds of immigrant labourers in the course of the construction of its World Cup-related stadiums.
On top of that, Doha has been more than inordinately cosying up to Iran, something which is anathema to its detractors. Three of those detractors happen to be its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Iran has been flagrantly trying to create trouble in Bahrain for a number of years, has been occupying the UAE’s islands for decades and has proved to be virulently anti-Saudi in its words and deeds.
But Qatar, buoyed by its gas revenues, will brook none of the criticism and dismissed the 13 demands put out by the boycotting countries out of hand, merely offering to discuss some of them.
At the end of one month of sanctions the four leading countries [Bahrain, Saudis, the UAE and Egypt], met in Cairo on July 5 and decided to maintain their boycott in view of Doha’s negative response to their demands. And while the four stopped short of announcing any new sanctions for the time being, they minced no words as to what was to come and their perception of Qatar’s recalcitrance.
“It is no longer possible to tolerate the destructive role played by the state of Qatar,” said the statement at the end of the meeting. The UAE minister of state for foreign affairs spoke of more isolation for Qatar: “Next greater isolation, incremental measures and reputational damage stemming from Doha’s continued support for extremism and terrorism.” Even its expulsion from the GCC is being bandied about.
But is Qatar in a mood to fall in line and return to the fold?
As of now, it does not look like it. The Turkish base in Qatar is going ahead despite GCC’s protestations and since the sanctions it has gone all out to embrace Iran since the latter has allowed it to use its air space for Qatar Airways’ Europe flights and is helping to replenish its food stocks [it also shares a major gas field with Iran]. And Al Jazeera TV is there to stay.
Some analysts tend to believe though that Iran now has got such stranglehold on it that Qatar may not be able to withdraw from its embrace even if it wanted to, considering Tehran has for the first time in history found an open-armed ally among Arab countries. But more importantly, money talks. Qatar is the richest country in the world, is flush with funds [just bought a mansion in Manhattan for its housemaids for $41 million], and as if to cock a snook at the GCC allies, has dramatically increased its gas output without consulting the regional group.
Its bravado is backed by its unfathomably deep pockets. From Day One of the crisis, it has claimed that it can hold out for years which it might, as long as it does not look at its ledger books. Symptomatic of this spirit was the move by a Qatari businessman to fly down thousands of cows on cargo planes to get over the milk crisis once the Saudi border and supplies were closed.
But that’s easier said than done. The four countries which stand opposed to its behaviour too have immense clout both financial and in terms of political leverage. And they have not yet played out all their cards. Qatar will have to do some rethinking if they decide to ask their trading partners to choose between the GCC and Doha.