At the high point of the breach between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours, now in its third year, the political dispute was played out across the arena. Militarily, the Saudi-led bloc planned on regime change in Doha; economically, the gas rich state was frozen out and laws were passed criminalising solidarity and sympathy with Qataris.
Hostilities also poured out onto football pitches during the Asian Cup tournament which was held in the UAE, one of the main protagonists in the anti-Qatar campaign. It is ironic, therefore, that it could be on the football pitch that the green shoots of reconciliation begin to appear.
According to Bloomberg, efforts to resolve the Gulf’s own “cold war” are said to be gathering momentum, with an upcoming football tournament in Doha. The American news agency cited Gulf officials close to the situation who suggested that the tournament would pave the way for a possible breakthrough.
The mediation is expected to take place in stages. Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the process is currently focusing on mending ties between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with the UAE expected to come on board at a later date.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain — three Gulf States which, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade on Qatar in 2017 — have agreed to take part in the Gulf Cup in Doha this month. Kuwait, which has remained neutral throughout the dispute, is said to be playing a key role in the current push for reconciliation.
The timing of these efforts has prompted speculation that Riyadh has one eye on the public flotation of shares in oil giant Saudi Aramco. The long-awaited sale in what is reported to be the largest Initial Public Offering (IPO) in history was announced over a week ago. It’s thought that Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is hoping to bring stability to the region in an effort to boost investors’ confidence. The standoff with Qatar and the war in Yemen are clearly hurting Riyadh’s chance of getting the best return from the IPO of what many describe as the “crown jewel” of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.