As the citizens and residents of Qatar stock up on essential goods, observers insist that the Gulf State will be able to withstand the Arab siege and still diversify its overseas alliances. Supermarket shelves emptied fast as queues built up at the tills following the severing of diplomatic ties by a number of Qatar's neighbours earlier this week. Nevertheless, say observers, Qatar will overcome this setback and continue to play an independent role in international affairs.
The siege was imposed on 5 June as longstanding tensions within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) boiled over with the announcement that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt (GCC3+1) were suspending diplomatic and trading ties with Qatar, ostensibly over its links with Iran and support for "terrorism". Qatar hosts the political bureau of Hamas and a number of Muslim Brotherhood exiles; it is also accused of funding groups in Syria linked to Al-Qaeda. The diplomatic move has diverted attention from the fact that Saudi Arabia has long stood accused of funding extremism and terrorism around the world. Western governments, including Britain and America, have brushed this under the carpet since signing massive arms deals with Riyadh. Qatar, of course, has denied all of the allegations that it supports "terrorism" in any way.
Following the announcement that the GCC3+1 were severing ties with Qatar, the move has been copied by the government of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, Libya, which has close ties with the UAE and Egypt. The Riyadh-based Yemeni government in exile led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and backed by Saudi Arabia has also joined in, as have the Indian Ocean countries Mauritius and Maldives, which have close ties with the Saudi and UAE governments. Jordan has "downgraded" its diplomatic presence in Doha.
All say that they will stop all land, sea and air links with Qatar. The border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia is already closed; it is Qatar's only land border and is essential for its import of goods from its huge neighbour. Several regional airlines such as Emirates, Bahrain's Gulf Air, Fly Dubai and Etihad Airlines in Abu Dhabi have cancelled their flights to Qatar, and Qatar Airways responded by cancelling flights to Saudi Arabia. In an astonishing move, GCC airspace has been closed to flights to and from Doha.
Countries which have cut diplomatic ties with Doha have given Qatari citizens two weeks to leave, while diplomatic staff have until 7 June to leave their host country. Qatar's activity in the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen has also been suspended because of the diplomatic tension, although it has only played a symbolic role to-date.
Qatar cannot deny that it plays host to a number of organisations and individuals disliked by the countries heading the siege, but such a role, it insists, allows it to act as a mediator in negotiations. Its willingness in this regard has been rejected by the GCC3+1 in the past, with Riyadh going so far as to accuse Doha of backing Shia militants in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
In an attempt to defuse the crisis, it has been reported that Qatar has asked a number of Hamas officials to leave; they are, it is said, heading for Turkey, Malaysia and Lebanon. However, such reports were denied, and Qatar has shown no willingness to cut down its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. Supporting these groups has helped to extend Qatar's territorial legitimacy and given the government some leverage in the US and other countries which seek to control the activities of Islamist groups.
One commentator has suggested that Qatar may consider re-aligning itself along the lines of Switzerland, as a neutral state able to host negotiations that others would find difficult or impossible. The International Union of Muslim Scholars, meanwhile, has condemned the siege of Qatar as "haram" (forbidden) and called for it to be rejected.