THE GCC TURNS ITS BACK ON QATAR

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In what has been dubbed as the most serious geopolitical incident the Arabian Peninsula has ever seen, a Saudi-led coalition of countries have severed diplomatic, economic and transport ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and causing instability in the region. This sudden isolation sent shock waves across the world and caused panic within the borders of the tiny emirate, whose 2.5 million citizens and expats were taken completely unawares by the rapidly unfolding crisis. Several days into the standoff, all parties seem to be prepared to settle into a protracted siege, one that promises to have a long-term political, economic and psychological impact on the region.

When news emerged that the Qatar News Agency (QNA) had been hacked, it was assumed to be the latest in the strong of cyberattacks that had become all too common of late in Qatar. No one could have predicted that it would set off a rapid chain of events that would end up isolating Qatar from its neighbours and exposing the faultlines in regional relationships. The first clue should have been in the exaggerated reactions by newspapers and news channels in Saudi Arabia and the UAE to the statements reportedly made by HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during the military graduation ceremony for the 8th batch of National Service recruits in the North Camp field. Though Qatar repeatedly insisted that these statements attributed to HH the Emir were false and the QNA had been hacked, Saudi and Emirati media continued to act as if the statements were indeed true and ran several segments and opinion pieces critical of Qatari foreign policy.

These statements, that supposedly tackled Iran, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda and Qatar’s uneasy relationship with US President Donald Trump, were presented as evidence that “Doha was flagrantly acting against the interests of the GCC”. The intensely combative regional and international media campaign that followed, which saw an unpreceded number of opinion pieces about Qatar in US media, took Qatari officials by surprise and foreign minister HE Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani vowed to address this issue and reassured the country that this had nothing to do with the “misunderstanding” that had occurred back in 2014 when several GCC countries had withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar for over seven months. Merely a week later, this series of events would come to head in a startling finale.

In the early hours of June 5, Bahrain was the first country to make a shock announcement that would precipitate into a full-blown crisis. Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.Shortly after, Saudi Arabia said it was cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar and it had pulled all Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen.Both the UAE and Egypt made similar announcements on their state-run news agencies within minutes of each other. Over the next few hours and days, a few other governments joined this anti-Qatar coalition, including the internationally-recognised government of Yemen led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, the Libyan faction led by Khalifa Haftar and Maldives. The remaining GCC countries – Kuwait and Oman – remained out of the fray.

These drastic actions were reportedly a response to Qatar’s “sponsoring violent extremism and causing regional instability”. This seriousness of this move was brought home when in addition to abruptly suspending diplomatic relations, these countries also surprised many by cutting off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar, including the country’s only land border with Saudi through which much of its food and construction materials were being imported. The border was sealed on the same days and reports trickled in of trucks being lined up across the border in Saudi Arabia unable to enter Qatar.The Saudi Ports Authority had notified shipping agents not to receive vessels carrying Qatari flags or ships owned by Qatari companies or individuals. The UAE’s Jebel Ali port followed suit. All but Egypt, which has 250,000 of its people working here, ordered their citizens to leave Qatar and gave Qatari citizens living in their countries two weeks to leave their borders. Qatar, however, said that nationals of these countries were free to remain in the Gulf state.

Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani gives a press conference in Doha, on June 8, 2017.
Qatar’s foreign minister rejected attempts to interfere in the country’s foreign policy and said a “military solution” to the country’s crisis with its Gulf neighbours was not an option. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

After a few days, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain announced hotlines to help the mixed families, a step that would aid “humanitarian cases of families shared between them and Qatar”. Qatar dismissed this hotline as “little more than a face-saving exercise” that was “too vague to have any practical impact” and was “void of a mechanism to be of assistance to those affected”. Soon Abu-Dhabi’s The National newspaper said Qataris married to Emiratis will not be deported and Qataris who were “immediate relatives of Emiratis” could “pass through”.

The GCC countries also clamped down on dissent and any show of sympathy or support for Qatar; Bahrain warned the island’s media outlets not to “publish or circulate anything that condones or justifies Qatari policies by any means” and those who do “will be held responsible”.”Strict and firm action will be taken against anyone who shows sympathy or any form of bias towards Qatar, or against anyone who objects to the position of the UAE, whether it be through the means of social media, or any type of written, visual or verbal form,” Gulf News quoted the UAE Attorney-General Hamad Saif Al Shamsi as saying.Offenders could be punished with a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of at least 500,000 dirhams ($136,000). Qatar meanwhile took a high ground on this, urging citizens and residents to keep the discussion civil on social media platforms, and, in accordance with Islamic values and Qatari culture, refrain from insulting these countries, their leaders or peoples.

A man walks past a charity billboard in the Qatari capital, Doha, on June 9, 2017. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain announced on June 5 they were cutting diplomatic ties and closing air, sea and land links with Qatar, giving Qataris within their borders two weeks to leave. STRINGER / AFP

Some analysts saw the sudden escalation as a sign that Saudi Arabia and its allies had been emboldened by the recent visit from President Trump, in which he publicly embraced the Saudis as a leading partner in fighting terrorism and countering Iran’s influence. Now convinced on President Trump’s support, the Saudis seized the opportunity to handle the major thorn on their feet that was Qatar’s independent foreign policy. Soon a list of 10 Saudi demands was allegedly along with the ultimatum that Qatar had 24 hours to comply, but this couldn’t be confirmed. In any case, it would seem the Gulf would demand cutting ties with Iran, expulsion of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood members from Qatar and cessation of support given to them and may also involve the plight of Al Jazeera Network, which has always been a source of irritation for many of these governments.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE followed this up by releasing a list of 59 individuals and 13 entities from or associated with Qatar as part of a “terror list”. The list included several Qataris and Egyptians, including the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Yusuf Abdullah Al Qaradawi, and charity organisations like Qatar Volunteer Center, Qatar Charity,Sheikh Eid Al Thani Charity Foundation (Eid Charity) and Sheikh Thani Bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services. This terror list wasn’t vetted recognized by any other international entity, specifically the United Nations which said it is bound only by the list of sanctions adopted by the organs of the United Nations and the Security Council.

Diplomatic back and forth

With HH the Emir cancelling his slated address to the nation on the behest of Kuwait, it is the country’s foreign minister who has been the go-to-source for Qatar’s official position. Immediately after the blockade came into effect, he started off on the first leg of a tour of major Western capitals that took him to Paris, London, Berlin, Brussels, Moscow and also Washington in the future. In one of the very first statements he made, he declared that there was “no legitimate justification” for this action that was a “violation of its sovereignty” and vowed to its citizens that this will not affect their day to day life. He called these sanction “unfair” and “illegal”.

Saudi Arabia’s position was that the damage caused by economic measures taken by these Arab states against Qatar should convince it change its policies.Qatar must end its support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, its foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said.”We believe that common sense and logic and will convince Qatar to take the right steps,” he said, continuing, “The decisions that were made were very strong and will have a fairly large cost on Qatar and we do not believe that Qataris want to sustain those costs.”
Another official voice in the fray was that of the UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, who would regularly tweet about the crisis, outlining the emirates’ position on the same. “We need a guaranteed roadmap to rebuild confidence after our covenants were broken,” he said on Twitter early on, accusing Doha of turning to “money and media and partisanship and extremism”.

Qatar has consistently denied the allegations. “Regarding the reasons for this escalation, honestly, we don’t know if there were real reasons for this crisis,” HE the Foreign Minister Al Thani told Al Jazeera. “There were no indications [of a crisis] whatsoever” in the latest GCC meeting, or the American-Islamic-Arab summit. Qatar had never experienced this type of hostility, even from an enemy country, he said. Declaring emphatically that “no one has the right to intervene in our foreign policy,” HE made it clear that Qatar “was not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy.”
The other camp also seemed just as determined to see this through with Gargash tweeting that “there’s nothing to negotiate” with Qatar, signaling Arab countries trying to isolate Doha won’t back down. “After much effort to internationalise the crisis with its brothers, after [Qatar kept] drumming up its media and screaming it is oppressed, our brother [Qatar] will soon realise the solution is in Riyadh and at [the hands of King] Salman.”The comment came a week after HE Al Thani said a statement, “The aim is clear, and it is to impose guardianship on the state. This by itself is a violation of its [Qatar’s] sovereignty as a state.”

The voice of calm and reason amidst all this has been that of Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah who has been leading the mediation efforts from the first day, saying he would like to see the dispute resolved within the framework of the GCC. He flew to Saudi Arabia the very next after the blockade was declared and has reportedly been in constant touch with HH the Emir. “It is quite difficult for us, the generation that built the GCC 37 years ago, to see the divisions among its members which may lead to undesirable consequences,” he was quoted as saying by the state news agency Kuna.He said, “Almost four decades ago, I lived the first moments of building the GCC and this is why I cannot stand silent without trying to mediate for the rapprochement among the brothers. It is a duty that I cannot walk away from. No matter how difficult the efforts, I will do my best to mediate among the brothers.”

Speaking from London before he met Boris Johnson, his British counterpart, HE Al Thani said, “Diplomatic dialogue is the solution, but it needs foundations not yet available. We’re focused on solving humanitarian problems resulting from the illegal blockade.” He called on countries to support the efforts of Kuwait’s emir in finding a solution, and invited “friendly states” to participate in that effort.

Food security and more

A customer is seen shopping at the al-Meera market in the Qatari capital Doha, on June 10, 2017.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain announced on June 5 they were cutting diplomatic ties and closing air, sea and land links with Qatar, giving Qataris within their borders two weeks to leave. STRINGER / AFP

As Doha’s residents started waking up to the news of what amounts to a siege, panic set in. For a country that imports 90% of its food, this is worrying news. There were reports of supermarket runs as people stockpiled food, expecting imminent shortage. This unexpected demand, especially for perishables and dairy products, put a strain on the supply chain and shelves sat empty, further exasperating concerns. However the government soon stepped in to ease the situation, announcing that Qatari citizens and residents will not be affected by the blockade and life will continue as normal. The country has robust contingency plans under the Qatar National Food Security and these soon kicked in.

Foreign Minister of Qatar Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani speaks with his Russian counterpart during their meeting in Moscow on June 10, 2017. Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

Qatar Chamber held a meeting which was attended by more than 40 major food supplies importer companies. The meeting discussed the alternative sources for the importers, as many of these importers have already signed agreements with other partners to ensure flow of food consumer goods. Attendees assured that they have enough strategic stock of food stuff and they have variety of sources, and the local market would not be affected and they are ready to put all their stocks under the State. Briefing the press after the meeting, Chairman of QC, Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani, declared that Qatar has stocks of food and other consumer goods which is enough for next 12 months and there would there will be no shortage of food items and other materials due to closure of the only land border as over 95% of Qatari imports come through the air and sea.

Faced with the prospect of being barred from the Saudi and Emirate ports, Qatar Ports Management launched a new direct service linking Hamad Port with Sohar Port in the Sultanate of Oman. The service operates three times a week and journey will take up to one and a half days. Ahmed Al Khalaf, Chairman of International Projects Development Co., the parent company of Qatar Meat, said shipments began arriving within five days from Oman, and that about 12 vessels were headed to Qatar from Sohar and Salalah. “There are around 300 containers of fresh and frozen food coming. Some have arrived and the others are on their way.” He said about 30 shipping containers filled with his imports at the UAE’s Jebel Ali port were still stuck, but that others, including from Europe, were being diverted to Oman’s ports. Shipping company Maersk Line, which had announced that was temporarily not accepting bookings to Qatar as feeder transshipments from Jebel Ali to Doha were suspended, soon started accepting new booking for container shipments to Qatar from Oman. MSC also said it would deploy a new dedicated shipping service to Qatar from Salalah.

Turkey has played the most visibly supportive role in this crisis with calls by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to lift the sanctions against Qatar and also by bolstering its food supplies with quick imports of dairy and poultry products. Soon supermarket shelves were filled with Turkish produce, replacing the familiar brands from Saudi Arabia, and people shared helpful tips on Twitter on what Turkish phrases to watch out for when trying to differentiate between whole milk from skimmed or fat free chicken from regular ones.
Over the past few months, Qatar and Turkey have signed some key agreements to cooperate in the fields of security, infrastructure development and technology transfer and these strategic ties seem to be paying off for Qatar. Delivering a speech at a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner in Istanbul, President Erdogan that Turkey would provide food and medicine to help Qatar ease its isolation despite the other nations “displeasure”. He called on Saudi Arabia and other countries of the region to end their sanctions, calling them un-Islamic, and rejecting accusations by these countries that Qatar supports terror groups. “Turkey will continue and develop our ties with Qatar, as with all our friends who have supported us in the most difficult moments,” he added in reference to last year’s failed coup.

Additionally, Turkey’s parliament approved a legislation allowing its troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar and also carry out joint military training exercises. The military base, Turkey’s first such installation in the Middle East, was set up as part of an agreement signed in 2014 and has a capacity to accommodate up to 5,000 troops; it already hosts 200 Turkish soldiers.

Morocco also decided to send airplanes loaded with food products to Qatar, according to the country’s foreign ministry statement. The document said King Mohammed VI instructed the government to do so “in accordance with our Islamic teachings especially in the holy month of Ramadan”. It stressed that the move was not connected to the Gulf crisis.

Help arrived from an expected quarter when Iran offered to send shipments almost immediately after the blockade was announced, saying they can reach Qatar in 12 hours, according to Reza Nourani, chairman of the union of exporters of agricultural products. Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi told AFP that six planes of food exports, including fruit and vegetables, had been sent to Qatar, each aircraft carrying around 90 tonnes of cargo. Three ships loaded with 350 tonnes of food were also set to leave an Iranian port for Qatar, the Tasnim news agency quoted a local official as saying.

An unstable ally

“Qatar has a history of supporting groups across a wide political spectrum, including those that engage in violence, and that the Emir of Qatar had made progress in halting financial support for terrorism but that he must do more.”

Perhaps the most confusing reaction to the crisis came from President Trump who seemed to be charting his own narrative of the country’s position on the issue through his tweets, one that seemed to contradict that coming from the state department. Even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was telling reporters in Australia where he was currently on tour that it was important that the GCC remain a strong entity and urged the countries to find a solution through dialogue, President Trump tweeted his unequivocal support for the sanctions, even going as far to claim credit for them. “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism,” he tweeted. Later speaking at a White House dinner he accused Qatar of “funding terrorism” at “very high level”.

With the US administration sending mixed signals in regards to its stance to the crisis, Saudi Arabia, via a statement on its state media, welcomed President Trump’s call on Qatar and other countries to increase their efforts against “terrorism”, but did not respond to a state department request to ease pressure on its neighbour. Just minutes before Trump’s speech, Tillerson had urged Saudi Arabia and its allies to ease their blockade on Qatar, saying it is causing unintended humanitarian consequences and affecting the US-led fight against ISIL.

He was of course referring to the US military’s Al Udeid base in Qatar which serves as a forward headquarters of United States Central Command and hosts more than 11,000 US and coalition forces. It serves as the base of operations for US air campaigns across Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. “While current operations from Al Udeid Air Base have not been interrupted or curtailed, the evolving situation is hindering our ability to plan for longer-term military operations,” Captain Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. Davis said Qatar remained critical for air operations against ISIL.

Tillerson soon starting toeing a line that carefully balanced President Trump’s outright accusations and US’s need to maintain Qatar as an ally, saying that “Qatar has a history of supporting groups across a wide political spectrum, including those that engage in violence, and that the Emir of Qatar had made progress in halting financial support for terrorism but that he must do more”. Then news emerged that President Trump spoke by telephone with HH the Emir, expressing readiness to participate in the efforts to resolve the crisis in the GCC. HE the Foreign Minister Al Thani however said the Emir would not travel to Washington for GCC crisis talks suggested by President Trump because he did not want to leave his country while it is “in blockade”.

Business as usual?

“There’s a high degree of uncertainty. There’s not much clarity on what could resolve this spat between Qatar and other GCC countries.”

The Saudi-led coalition hopes that the economic losses Qatar would sustain because of these sanctions would ultimately convince the country to reconsider its foreign policy and bring it more in line with the GCC’s. But what exactly are the short and medium term impacts of the crisis on Qatar’s economy?

HE the Finance Minister Ali Sherif Al Emadi told CNBC that Qatar’s significant reserves and investment funds mean that it will not be harmed by sanctions. “We are extremely comfortable with our positions, our investments and liquidity in our systems,” he said. He explained that the countries sanctioning Qatar would also lose money because of damage to business in the region. “If we’re going to lose a dollar, they will lose a dollar also.” Analysts also say that Qatar could defend its currency for years in the face of these economic sanctions, the country’s balance sheet suggests, so the riyal’s peg to the US dollar is unlikely to fall victim to the region’s diplomatic crisis.

Credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service is concerned that the rift between Qatar and other regional states could have an impact on Doha’s credit rating, if trade and capital flows are disrupted, a senior Moody’s analyst told Reuters. “There’s a high degree of uncertainty. There’s not much clarity on what could resolve this spat between Qatar and other GCC countries,” Mathias Angonin said in Dubai. “The last tension ended with no credit implications,” he said, referring to a row when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in March 2014. “But this time around blocking sea, air and land (routes) shows a credit-negative escalation. And we’re concerned that could have a credit impact if it disrupts trade and capital flows.” Late last month, Moody’s downgraded Qatar’s credit rating by one notch to Aa3 from Aa2 with a stable outlook, citing increasing external debt and uncertainty over the sustainability of the country’s growth model over the next few years.

In further news over Qatar’s economy, the central bank says transactions at home and abroad continue normally. In a statement released on QNA, the bank said Governor HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud Al Thani dismissed concerned over liquidity levels. However UAE banks and other financial institutions have been instructed to search for and freeze any accounts or deposits or investments held by individuals or entities that are in the “terror list” issued by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. In another circular, the Central Bank advised banks and other financial institutions operating in the UAE to apply enhanced customer due diligence for any accounts they hold belonging to six Qatari banks. That stopped short of a complete ban on business with Qatar but the effect may turn out to be much the same. UAE banks were absent from Qatar’s foreign exchange and money markets, causing both those markets to slow down, because they feared any deals could expose them to legal risk, bankers said.

Shares in Qatar Stock Exchange plunge 8% amid diplomatic crisis and the country’s stock market shrank by about $11 billion in value, the most since 2010. However the financial markets recovered following a week of losses after the blockade was announced, as the shock began wearing off and reassurances from the finance minister that business would continue as normal.

There were reports for shortages of US dollars at exchange houses in Qatar, making it harder for worried foreign workers to send money home, as foreign banks scaled back business with Qatari institutions because of the region’s diplomatic crisis. “We have no dollars because there is no shipment or transportation from the UAE. There is no stock,” said a dealer at the Qatar-UAE Exchange House in Doha’s City Center mall. “The shipment is blocked from the UAE.”

Meanwhile, on the seaside, ExxonMobil Corp says production and exports of liquefied natural gas from Qatar have not been affected. The growing diplomatic rift has raised concerns about global access to Qatar’s LNG, especially after some regional ports in the Gulf said they would not accept Qatari-flagged vessels. However exports of aluminium from the Qatalum metals plant in Qatar have been blocked by the UAE, Norway’s Norsk Hydro which owns a 50% stake in the Qatalum joint venture, producing more than 600,000 tonnes per year of primary aluminium for customers in Asia, Europe and the United States. “Most Qatalum shipments normally go through the large Jebel Ali port in UAE, but this port looks to be closed for all Qatar shipments,” Norsk Hydro said in a statement. Also Qatar, the world’s second largest helium producer, closed its two helium production plants because of the economic boycott imposed by other Arab states, industry sources told Reuters. The helium plants operated by RasGas, a subsidiary of state-owned Qatar Petroleum, were shut after Saudi Arabia closed its border with Qatar, blocking overland exports of the gas, a QP official told Reuters.

But clearly this blockade will prove to be just as costly to Qatar’s neighbours, as evidenced by just one instance where Royal Dutch Shell had to send a replacement cargo of LNG from the United States to Dubai after the disruption of typical trade routes from Qatar. Shell has a deal to supply the Dubai Supply Authority with LNG which it typically sources from Qatar because of its proximity. But bans on Qatari vessels entering ports in the UAE meant it had to source the LNG from elsewhere.

Qatar Airways copes

Passengers wai to check-in at a Qatar Airways counter in the Hamad International Airport in the Qatari capital Doha on June 12, 2017. Qatar Airways called on the UN’s aviation body to declare a Gulf boycott against the carrier “illegal” and a violation of a 1944 convention on international air transport. / AFP PHOTO / KARIM JAAFAR

However the most visible victim of the blockade has been Qatar Airways which had to cancel all its flights to the 18 destinations that it has been barred from entering. Moreover, due to restrictions of air space use by its neighbours several flights now had to take longer, more circuitous routes and required new refueling stops. For example, the airline’s Doha-Khartoum flights previously took three hours 39 minutes. It now takes almost six hours because the airline can no longer send its aircraft over Saudi Arabia. Lengthier flights require considerably more fuel, a factor that will eat into the company’s profit margins on some routes. It could also discourage some passengers from flying Qatar Airways.

With all air links cut off, Saudia, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai, Emirates and Etihad suspended all their to and from Doha. Qatar Airways had previously had a larger presence in Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE than airlines from those countries had in Qatar. Furthermore, Saudi and the UAE were Qatar Airways’ two single largest markets. Aviation analyst Kyle Bailey told AFP that this means the carrier’s profits will be severely hit by the recent Gulf dispute. “Losing these (flights) will no doubt be devastating to the carrier’s financial bottom line, wiping out about 30% of revenue,” he said.

As the crisis unfolded, Qatar Airways chartered three flights on Oman Air to bring passengers from Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah to Doha. All passengers arrived safely home via Oman’s capital Muscat the day after the sanctions were imposed. The airline has also organised a flight with Kuwait Airlines to transport remaining passengers from Saudi Arabia to Doha via Kuwait the next day. Meanwhile all passengers booked on affected flights will be provided with alternative options, including the option of a full refund on any unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternative Qatar Airways network destination, the airlines said in a statement.

Qatar Airways Group CEO HE Akbar Al Baker said the blockade of air space was illegal, calling on the International Civil Aviation Authority to weigh in on this. “We have legal channels to object to this,” he said. “ICAO should heavily get involved, put their weight behind this to declare this an illegal act.” The UAE and Bahrain have signed the convention. Saudi Arabia is not a signatory. Meanwhile, speaking to Al Jazeera just after declaring a 22% profit jump from the previous year, the highest ever on record for the airlines, Al Baker said that this gave the airlines the opportunity to accelerate their expansion to the 24 new destinations that had planned, which they haven’t been able to do until now because of capacity shortage. “So though we might underperform it will not be to the extent of our neighbours. Actions like these effect air connectivity confidence and these other airlines won’t go laughing to the bank,” he said.

He also complained about how the unfair treatment the airlines had received in these countries. “These governments have treated us like a money laundering business or drug agency. In sealing our offices, detaining our managers, kicking staff out of the offices without even allowing them to take their personal effects, they did not allow us to process refunds for affected customers. They even blocked our websites in their countries so we couldn’t communicate directly to the customers. But we will continue to support our staff in these countries and pay their remunerations. Moreover we will allow these other airlines to operate offices in the country as usual,” he said.

Al Jazeera not on the table

“It’s not about Iran or Al Jazeera…We have no clue about the real reasons…Qatar is willing to sit and negotiate about whatever is related to Gulf security.” 

Central to this crisis has been the Al Jazeera Network. After the crisis erupted, Saudi Arabia closed Al Jazeera’s bureau in Riyadh and halted its operating license, accusing the network of promoting “terrorist groups” in the region. Jordanian officials quickly followed announcing the closure of the Al Jazeera bureau in Amman and the withdrawal of its operating license.

The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage issued a circular ordering all “tourist facilities” to remove satellite channels that include religious, political or moral violations, including the Al Jazeera Media Network. Those that violate this circular can face penalties, which could amount to 100,000 Saudi riyals ($26,600) or the revocation of their license, or both.

However, Qatar appears to be standing behind its biggest soft power force. Al Jazeera Media Network is an “internal affair” and there will be no discussion about the fate of the Doha-based broadcaster with nations that imposed a blockade on Qatar, HE the Foreign Minister Al Thani said. Speaking at a press conference in Paris, he had no idea why the Saudi Arabia-led bloc of nations imposed a blockade on Qatar. “It’s not about Iran or Al Jazeera,” he said. “We have no clue about the real reasons…Qatar is willing to sit and negotiate about whatever is related to Gulf security.” But he said Qatar does not accept “foreign dictations”. “Doha rejects discussing any matter related to Al Jazeera channel as it considers it an internal affair,” QNA quoted the minister as saying. “Decisions concerning the Qatari internal affairs are Qatari sovereignty – and no one has to interfere with them.”


INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT

Ben STANSALL / AFP

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he would urge Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain along with Egypt “to ease the blockade on Qatar. I call on all states to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation and to find a rapid resolution through mediation,” he said.

Franck PENNANT / AFP

The office of French President Emmanuel Macron is reportedly attempting to reconcile tensions between Qatar and its neighbours. The president said he has held a series of calls with HH the Emir, Saudi Arabia’s king, Turkey’s president and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Christophe Castaner, the French government spokesman, said his country was not taking sides in the Gulf spat, but said “Qatar must be completely transparent and answer precisely the questions that have been asked notably by its neighbours”.

Adem ALTAN / AFP

Binali Yildirim, Turkey’s Prime Minister, said the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf could turn into a global problem if tensions flare. “A new problem area that may be created here [in Qatar] would not be limited inside the region,” he said. “The risk of this issue becoming a global problem is very high due to the geostrategic nature of the region. We call on the parties in the tension to act responsibly and contribute to reducing the tension rather than increasing it.”

Yuri KADOBNOV / AFP

“We cannot be happy in a situation when the relations between our partners are worsening,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. “We are in favour of resolving any disagreements through dialogue. Russia is ready to try to do everything in its power to help resolve the crisis.”

Philipp von Ditfurth / dpa / AFP

The dispute between Qatar and other Arab states could lead to war, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told a newspaper. The minister said personal talks this week with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, and phone calls with the foreign ministers of Iran and Kuwait underscored his concerns. “After my talks this week, I know how serious the situation is, but I believe there are also good chances to make progress.” He called for an end to the land, sea and air blockade on Qatar after a meeting with HE the Foreign Minister Al Thani in Wolfenbuettel, Germany.