It has been two years since the four countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, imposed their siege on Qatar. Two years later, the besieged came out stronger and more powerful, while the besiegers remained trapped even deeper in a quagmire they thought they had set as a trap for their Gulf neighbour. The recent past indicates that Qatar has always been the annoying neighbour to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as it refuses to be a follower. This is the essence of the conflict that regularly surfaced from time to time, showing the fragility of the relationships between the various Arab regimes, including the Gulf governments, some of which believed were more resilient than others.
Qatar was the first country to reject the “Gulf Initiative” supposedly proposed by the GCC states to save its ally Ali Abdullah Saleh from the grips of the Yemeni people after the popular revolution in 2011. Those who kept up with the matter would remember how Saudi Arabia focused its “electronic flies”, although this term was not yet coined at the time, to undermine and diminish Qatar. They launched one hashtag after another, accusing Qatar of singing a different tune to the Gulf.
Hence, Qatar did not want to be a dependent or follower of one country or another. It believed it could not achieve the plans it had for the future and development of the state without making independent sovereign decisions. It is worth noting what Qatar put up with and withstood for the sake of keeping good relations with its neighbours. It had always been humble towards its big sister, Saudi Arabia, and continuously defended it every time an international party criticised Saudi Arabia. This is not to mention the fact that it withstood the policies of its big sister, which were often arbitrary and did not stem from political awareness or an understanding of the volatility and repercussions of the region. An example of this is Saleh, who Saudi Arabia defended with a miserable initiative rejected by Qatar and defended against the wrath of his people, but ultimately made an alliance with the Houthis and stood against the Saudis.
This article is not long enough to mention everything in this regard, but I must bring up Operation Decisive Storm, launched by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad Bin Salman in March 2015, surprising the world with it, and mentioned the names of various countries participating without discussing it with them. When he asked Qatar to supply him with armed forces to protect his southern border with Yemen, Qatar did not refuse and immediately sent its forces on the condition that they remain in Saudi Arabia as defensive forces, not offensive forces, despite being entirely against any war in the area or region.
However, this all turned on Qatar overnight, and the Qatari forces left Saudi Arabia after the siege was imposed, which was not what the four countries wanted to Qatar. They tried to invade and occupy Qatar, according to the details leaked by many American sources to the media. Moreover, after these countries realised this was impossible to achieve, they decided not to come out of this empty-handed, and so they imposed a siege on Qatar and banned anything from entering the country during Ramadan. They also closed their air space, which has consequences and losses, as well as cut off family ties between the people of Qatar and the people in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain.
In the minds of the four besieging countries, the siege was the best means to push Qatar to relinquish its sovereignty and independence. These countries thought that it would also be the best way to pressure Qatar to accept conditions that would strip it of most of its sovereignty and independence and they thought this was possible and that Doha would not last long.
Two years have passed. What has happened during this time? Qatar expanded its diplomatic ties, increased its political influence, and gained more international respect. Moreover, Qatar has become more economically viable after it implemented several projects that had been postponed as a favour to its neighbours and brothers. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the poles of the siege, are currently suffering a crisis that is growing and expanding daily. It is enough to say that the three summits called for by King Salman in Mecca during Ramadan did not achieve even the minimum achievements they were meant to.
We can say today that Qatar achieved its second independence and is closer to being an influential force in the Middle East due to the cleverness of its leadership, which adopted a separate diplomatic path based on transparency, flexibility and mutual respect with those who respect its charters and covenants.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 11 June 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.