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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2397

Qatarstrophe: Qatar is under Siege from powerful neighbours

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

The economical equivalent of the hammer-blow, in the form of severing diplomatic ties, banning the use of airspace and closing the land borders that fell on the gas-rich, tiny Gulf nation on Monday was a bolt from the blue, indeed.

It’s the most severe form of isolation as far as Qatar is concerned in its history and the drop of almost 8% in the stocks at the news at Doha stock exchange, clearly reflects the gravity of the latest crisis in the Middle East, when we thought that all is well in the recent summit in Saudi Arabia with President Trump at the centre of attention with focus firmly on combatting the extremism.

Against this backdrop, the sudden decision by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen took the world by surprise; the scale of the measures taken by the countries is alarming and the political analysts believe it is more of a declaration of war than taking punitive sanctions.

Since Maldives also decided to follow suit on Monday afternoon, it became clear that Saudi Arabia was flexing its diplomatic and economic muscle to build a broader front to take on Qatar. Pakistan and Turkey, however, have not so far decided to come on board to create intended alliance, despite being majority Sunni nations.

Not only did the five Arab states cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, but also severed land, air and sea travel while expelling Qatari citizens within the next 14 days – an unprecedented move given the fact that all being Sunni Arab nations.

On Tuesday, UAE banned sugar exports to Qatar, while tightening the economic blockade.

The diplomats, unfortunately, are less lucky with a 48-hour deadline to leave the Arab nations or come back from Qatar to reciprocate.

The closure of land border between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, particularly, has the potential cause mayhem in the latter, as it relies on almost 40% of food imports through the sole land-crossings. In addition, the ban on the use of airspace of the five Arab nations will create more problems for its national carrier, Qatar Airways, one of the best and most popular air lines in the world. Panic-buying could potentially make things worse in the coming days, unless the process of de-escalation is initiated by the affected parties.

It emerged yesterday that Qatar was going to use Somali air space to deal with the crisis, perhaps as a temporary measure.

Saudi Arabia cited Qatar’s involvement in funding terrorist groups as the cause behind the escalation of the crisis: it’s no secret that Qatar is financially backing both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas; the coalition against Qatar says the latter supports ISIS and Al-Qaida too.

Meanwhile, it emerged on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and UAE were outraged when the Qatari ruling family paid ransom - amount to almost $1billion - to the militant group, allegedly linked to Al-Qaeda, to get a group of hostages freed, some of whom were the members of the royal family, while on a hunting trip.

Those who accuse Qatar of funding terrorism used the incident to back up their claim, something Qatar denies.

Moreover, the nature of broadcasting from Al-Jazeera, the TV station based in Qatar, has angered the rulers of the five Arab nations against Qatar. They have completely banned Al-Jazeera from airing its programmes to the audiences in the respective countries.

Saudi Arabia accuses Qatar of pursuing its own path in contravention of the agenda of the GCC – Gulf Co-operation Council – which recently met in Saudi Arabia with the participation of President Trump.

After the famous gathering, it emerged that the Emir of Qatar was not happy about the way the GCC and President Trump ganged up against Iran in order to demonize the Shia-dominated nation. Much to the dismay of Saudis, the emir, meanwhile, congratulated Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president on his second victory recently – perhaps, the last straw.

Iran, meanwhile, lost no time in blaming President Trump for the crisis, who recently urged the GCC to play an active role in combating the extremism. It goes without saying that the five Arab nations would not have taken such a severe step unless they felt being emboldened by a powerful, global backer, especially on the military front.

In the light of the unexpected development, the political analysts try to figure out whether crisis is just coincidental in the aftermath of the bombing in London and what the leaders of the two allies stated in the strongest terms: President Trump said that the bloodshed should end and it will end; British Prime Minister, meanwhile, stated that “enough is enough.”

On its part, the reaction of Qatar has been less confrontational; it has not reciprocated in kind either. It, however, accused Saudi Arabia of trying to impose what it called, ‘guardianship’ on Qatar.

The US, meanwhile, urged the countries involved to solve the crisis amicably. The US understands the significance of the nipping the crisis in the bud, especially at a time, when its largest military base in the region is in the country at the centre of the crunch.

- Asian Tribune

Qatarstrophe: Qatar is under Siege from powerful neighbours
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