The Saudi Arabia-led blockade imposed on Qatar since June 5 has made Qatar and the rest of the Middle East a hotbed of conflict, controversy and strained relations. The year 2017 saw Qatar hold its ground and come out stronger than ever.
In other major news concerned with the region, after years of bloodshed in Iraq, terrorist organisation Daesh was ousted from the country. The announcement was made by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Jawad Kadhim Al Abadi on December 9.
Unfortunately, there was no let-up in acts of violence in 2017 as terrorists continued to make their presence felt, with the UK having to grapple with the consequences of three attacks on its soil.
As far as world news was concerned, aged 39, Emmanuel Macron of the En Marche! Party became the youngest-ever president of France when he defeated Marine Le Pen of the National Front. Elsewhere in the world, Robert Mugabe finally relinquished his position as the president of Zimbabwe after ruling the roost from 1987-2017. Sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa was named as the new president on November 24.
In other news that literally shook the earth, North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test on September 3, 2017. And another development which had similar implications: US President Donald Trump officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
‘The Year That Was’ is the cover story from the Qatar Today December 2017 – January 2018 issue, covering all the major events that happened globally in the past year. It will be published online in a series of four parts. ‘Timeline of the Blockade on Qatar’ is part one of the ‘The Year That Was’ story.
Between 5:30a.m. and 6:30a.m., Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt cut off all diplomatic ties with Qatar. With this move, all participating countries cut off air, sea and land routes with Qatar. On this day, Maldives and Yemen also cut off ties with Qatar. US, Kuwait and Turkey urge the blockading countries to rethink their decision and come to a compromise to maintain unity among the GCC countries.
Responding to charges of terrorism against Qatar and their alleged support for Hamas, the country’s Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani says that Qatar supports the people of Palestine rather than Hamas. Qatar also announces that there will be no change in policies for people from countries that have cut or reduced ties with Qatar. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said that if the situation worsens, this crisis could have global consequences if it is not dealt with responsibly. FIFA president Gianni Infantino says that the crisis in the region will not stop Qatar from hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar Petroleum CEO Saad Sherida Al Kaabi announces that the Dolphin Gas pipeline will still continue to provide gas to the UAE, despite the ongoing crisis. He states that despite the “force majeure” clause in the agreement, which would allow them to stop supplying gas if they wanted, Qatar will not do so as it does not wish to cause any problems for the people of the UAE.
This marked the deadline for all Qataris in the blockading countries to leave those respective countries. The blockading countries also order their citizens to return from Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain issue Qatar a list of 13 demands, which includes shutting down of the Al Jazeera channel, and give them 10 days to comply with these demands, which according to them will help resolve the blockade. But Qatar does not agree to the demands, saying that they are neither reasonable nor actionable.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson holds talks in Kuwait to help resolve the blockade. He also visits Qatar and Saudi Arabia on his four-day trip to the Gulf region in an effort to find a solution for the ongoing blockade. His visit signified a new, more active involvement of the US in solving the crisis. Tillerson also said that the blockade had consequences at the humanitarian level as it was disrupting the fight against Daesh.
Qatar’s Ministry of Interior says that the hacking of the Qatar News Agency website was traced back to the UAE. Investigators had traced the IP address of the hacker back to the UAE and the hacker had managed to access the QNA network in April using Virtual Private Network (VPN) and had scanned the website.
Qatar announces visa-free entry for citizens from 80 countries in a move to encourage tourism and air transport during the blockade. The move was aimed at making Qatar the most open country in the region.
Muslims from Qatar were unable to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj as a result of poor communication between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The Director of International Cooperation at Qatar’s National Human Rights Commission, Saad Sultan Al Abdullah, expressed his concern on the matter. He said: “Politics and human rights must be separated” and “there should be no mixing of political disputes and Muslims’ natural and human right to perform their religious duties.”
UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, wrote on his Twitter account that “Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup should include a repudiation of policies supporting extremism and terrorism. Doha should review its record. Hosting of the World Cup should not be tainted by support of extremist individuals and organisations/terrorist figures; review of Qatar’s policies is a must”. This statement came after a Dubai police official said that the only way for the blockade to end was for Qatar to give up the World Cup.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa proposes the freezing of Qatar’s GCC membership as a move to further isolate the country from its brethren. Bahrain also said that it would not attend the GCC summit in December if Qatar took part. He also criticised Qatar for not agreeing to the 13 demands placed by the blockading countries.
The annual GCC summit, originally scheduled for two days, ended just a few hours after it began. Of the six countries, only the heads of state of Kuwait and Qatar were present at the summit. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE sent ministers and deputy prime ministers for the meet. UAE also announced a new partnership with Saudi Arabia, separate from the GCC, which involves military and trade relations.
Saudi Arabia ‘permanently’ closes its land border with Qatar. The move comes as a part of the blockade against Qatar. Although the gate had been closed two weeks after the announcement of the embargo, it was reopened for pilgrims to perform Hajj.