Qatar: Gulf crisis one year on - What's next for Qatar?

Channel : Al Jazeera English · on 06-06-2018 01:43:56 PM
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This Al Jazeera news special marks one year since the beginning of the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Exactly 12 months ago, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed their ties with Qatar and imposed a full blockade, accusing it of supporting "terrorism".

It is a claim that Doha has strongly refuted.

It came after Qatar's state news agency was hacked and false statements attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani were posted on its website.

Our special coverage features in-depth reports on how Qatar has reinvented itself over the last 12 months to overcome the effects of the blockade.

When the blockade was imposed on Qatar on June 5, 2017, few expected it to last as long as it has. One year on, what started as an expression of frustration with, and attempt to change, Qatar's independent foreign policy, has, in fact, deepened the political divisions and, if anything, made it more difficult to envisage a return to Gulf unity.

Today, nobody can deny that overall the blockade has had a negative impact on all concerned, including Saudi Arabia, which ironically ended up diminishing the very same Gulf security it professes to protect from an expansionist Iran. It is clear that at the start Qatar hoped for a short blockade and was eager to restore relations, but not at any price. As the weeks and months passed by, it sought to emphasise the silver lining in the crisis, largely as a means of coping with the shock of finding itself isolated by its immediate neighbours.

Qatar has demonstrated an impressive ability to turn the crisis into an opportunity in terms of improving food security, social cohesion and economic sustainability, including adapting fiscal policies that helped its currency weather the blockade.

However, a much less recognised geopolitical silver lining is that the crisis has inadvertently helped Qatar keep out of some of the most damaging policies in the Middle East and in this way has paved the way for the country to make a regional comeback.

Qatar is happy to be out of Yemen
Firstly, as soon as the blockade started, Qatar was thrown out of the alliance waging war in Yemen which the Qataris joined reluctantly, largely to please the Saudis.

Another year of war in Yemen has only involved more death and misery, with Saudi's other blockade bringing the country with its 28 million people to a massive humanitarian catastrophe. Serendipitously, Qatar was extricated from the negative reputational fallout suffered by Saudi and the UAE. This was Doha's first strategic win in the eyes of a global media and civil society increasingly alarmed at the horrors unfolding in Yemen.

Moreover, with cracks rapidly developing in the Saudi/UAE alliance as a result of having diverging designs for Yemen's future, Qatar has come out as a more trustworthy party which harbours no preconceived ideas about Yemen's territorial integrity.

How the blockade on Qatar failed
Marwan Kabalan
by Marwan Kabalan
Secondly, there is no doubt that the way the Arab Spring unfolded did tarnish Qatar's foreign policy reputation. The widespread perception globally that it is now being bullied by Saudi Arabia and the UAE has by and large rehabilitated its image after its controversial interventionist phase.

In the "Arab streets", the Saudis and Emiratis have also lost popularity as they aligned with the Trump administration and gave tacit support for the US embassy move to Jerusalem.

Throughout the blockade, Qatar has taken the moral high ground by largely refraining from petty retaliation, engaging in measured diplomacy, and following international law to the letter, which has further turned public opinion in Qatar's favour.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly for Gulf security, Qatar's refusal to abrogate its sovereignty as a condition for ending the blockade has allowed it to have an independent stance on the Iran nuclear deal and not to be compelled into publicly supporting the US withdrawal.

This has placed Qatar in an advantageous position with the many likeminded Arab, European and Asian states, (as well as level-headed US politicians) who feel that years of painstaking negotiations should not have been disregarded with such ease and who understand that US President Donald Trump's position is very much to follow Israel's lead.

The Saudi-UAE axis could crumble
Despite these silver linings, the path ahead for Qatar is difficult. The real question now is whether a one-year blockade has helped the country make up its mind whether it wants to continue down this path alone.

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