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What’s left of the Qatar siege?

February 21, 2019 at 10:42 am

Officials from Egypt, Saudi, Bahrain, UAE discuss their blockade of Qatar [Anadolu Agency]

Thirteen demands or conditions were put on the table by the countries imposing the siege on Qatar in order to restore relations to how they were in the past. Reflecting the authoritarian nature of the boycotting states — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — Qatar was given ten days to implement their demands or it would find itself outside the Gulf States’ embrace.

Some of the conditions were political, such as reducing the level of diplomatic representation with Iran; some were economic, such as Qatar should stop doing business with Iran; and some were military, such as not establishing a Turkish military base in Qatar. The blockading countries also told Qatar to close Al Jazeera and other media outlets, including Arabi 21 and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Qatar was forced into an unenviable situation, with a very short time to meet the siege coalition demands. Observers waited for it to capitulate or face a precarious future.

READ: Qatar removes Saudi Arabia from traffic signs 

Today, though, more than a year and a half after the start of the siege, it is clear that Qatar has managed to pull itself clear of the rock and the hard place between which it was pushed, and made great progress for a country surrounded on three sides by its self-declared enemies. None of the coalition conditions were met; all were most likely ignored.

Its diplomatic relations with Iran remain strong and trade is growing. The Deputy Head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, Hadi Haq Shinas, offered Qatar the use of Bushehr port to export and import goods. He pointed out the potential to transport goods from Turkey and other countries to Qatar using suitable shipping lines from Bushehr.

Arabs ready to bomb Qatar - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Arabs ready to bomb Qatar – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The first Turkish military presence in the Gulf since the Ottoman era came with the arrival of troops in Qatar to help train Qatari soldiers. This angered the blockading countries. There are an estimated 3,000 Turkish troops there, although the agreement between Doha and Ankara may see that figure rise to 5,000 in the future. The agreement may develop to include warships and fighter jets at the new base, or see it turn into a naval and air logistical support centre. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi were obviously seeking to end Turkey’s military presence on their doorstep when they demanded that Qatar should close the base.

The closure of Al Jazeera, meanwhile, was a red line that Qatar will never consider because it is a blatant interference in its domestic affairs. Al Jazeera is still operating, its correspondents are in the field, none of its offices outside the besieging countries have been closed, and its employees have managed to overcome the uncertainty caused by the threats.

READ: What does Qatar’s Asian Cup victory mean? 

According to political logic, the activity of any country under siege is reduced in terms of regional issues, and officials limit their overseas trips. This is common during political crises, but has been strangely absent in this siege. Indeed, the tables appear to have been turned, with the number of Saudi Arabia’s opponents growing as it experiences tense relations with former allies. Riyadh’s latest crisis with Morocco is perhaps the best evidence of this, in addition to strained relations with Turkey, once one of its main allies in the region. Saudi Arabia also lost popularity in the Arab world due to its normalisation of links with Israel. Meanwhile, Qatar still has good relations with its allies in the region, despite some hiccups here and there. There have been no changes in its positions with regard to regional crises, and the Emir of Qatar is conducting more foreign visits than ever, as if nothing has happened.

All along, Qatar has expressed its willingness to sit at the negotiation table with its neighbours in the Gulf to end the crisis. The government in Doha has always welcomed any delegation and there are positive signs suggesting an end to the dispute with the blockading coalition, although some are trying to keep things unstable by posting mischievous tweets here and there. The siege retains its international significance but Qatar has been able to sustain growth and development despite its severity.

Given all of this, we must ask what’s left of the siege on Qatar. What, indeed, was the point of it all?

This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi 21 on 20 February 2019

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.