Will Qatar resist isolation, the economic and political sanctions imposed by Saudia Arabia and the United Emirates? The powerful neighbours accuse the small Emirate of support of terrorist and Islamist groups, of propaganda through the satellite channel al-Jazeera, and disapprove of its different approach to foreign policy within the region, especially its relations with Shiite Iran.
Analyses of the international press and those of experts on the issue seem to go in different directions: “The siege of Qatar isn’t working”, reads a headline of the Economist, pointing out how “privation” in the small Emirate state is “trifling”.
Apart from a brief period of scarcity of poultry and milk, the shelves of the supermarkets have become full again, the majority of petrol and gas exports continue undisturbed towards Asia and many nations which haven’t imposed sanctions, markets following the initial collapse have picked up again. Of course, time is needed in order to get used to the new maritime commercial routes, which are longer and therefore costly. The national airline suffers the closure of airspace of its unruly neighbours, but Qatar remains the country with the highest income per head in the world, twice that of its rival Saudi Arabia. A sense of humour does not fail to emerge regarding the issue: @dohaundersiege, a Twitter profile born immediately after the beginning of the crisis, makes fun of the foreign businessmen who lodge in the great hotels of the capital: “Omellette bar at breakfast buffet officially OUT of chives [at the Four Seasons]”, “Hording caviar in the mini-fridge”, “Evacuation buses waiting to evacuate expats”, written next to a photo of rows of Porches and Ferraris. On the other hand, Bloomberg explains how the conflict with the Gulf exposes Qatar’s weakness.
The country’s young emir, the thirtyseven year old Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has not issued a statement since the breaking out of the crisis according to some, under suggestion of the leader of the nearby Kuwait, Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, who attempts to mediate. It is left to observe whether negotiations will eventually lead to a compromise, to a change of direction in Qatar’s foreign politics. According to Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, researcher at the Baker Institute for Public Policy of Rice University, there won’t be a transformation of the positions of the Emirate, “whose leadership has maturely responded to the crisis, strengthening its relations with Turkey and Russia and working to secure alternative sources of energy from other countries, among which Iran. Qatar has demonstrated that it has the power to choose to resist the stalemate.” If this is the situation, it is difficult to imagine Doha making compromises, regarding al-Jazeera for example, controversial broadcasting station attacked by its rivals, whose offices, between 2011 to today, have been closed in various countries throughout the region. In Egypt, TV was accused of siding with the Muslim Brotherhood, when the leadership of Cairo declared it illegal. Under the pressure of colleagues of the Council for Cooperation of the Gulf, Doha had already asked in 2014 numerous figures of the Brotherhood living in the country, in hiding from nations in which they were being searched for, to leave the Emirate. An example is Amr Darrag, head of the political wing of the Egyptian Brotherhood, the Justice and Freedom party, who moved from Doha to Istanbul.
If Saudis and citizens of the United Arab Emirates hoped that Qatar would succumb quickly under pressure, this is not what effectively happened and judging by the behaviour of its leaders, the country seems prepared for a long term confrontation, says Ulrichsen, who explains the pivotal role in the crisis played by the actor which is often considered in the West as secondary regarding Saudi Arabia: the United Arab Emirates, in this case Abu Dhabi with its Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Zayed. “The Emirates have the exact opposite approach to Qatar vis à vis the Islamist movements. If Doha’s leadership felt comfortable with directing political transitions after the Arab Spring, Abu Dhabi saw the rise of Islamist insurgents as a threat to the status quo which could have brought instability within the Gulf. For this reason, Qatar and the Emirates supported different sides in Egypt and in Libya, and between them relations have soured between 2011 to today. Qatar’s activism during early times of the rebellion has pushed the Emirates to become more assertive in terms of regional politics”.