One year after the blockade, Qatar has lost on many fronts

Doha’s biggest setback has been its failure to regain the trust of its neighbours and, critically, the United States.
Sunday 10/06/2018
Abu Samra border crossing to Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)
Increasingly isolated. Abu Samra border crossing to Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

One year ago, a coalition of Arab countries made up of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with and imposed a historic land, air and sea blockade on Qatar. The measures were designed to contain Doha’s interference in the Arab region and dissuade it from supporting extremist groups.

A year on, Qatar, despite desperate measures to present itself as strong and independent, has lost much of its regional clout and soft power.

Doha’s gradual decline is evident throughout the Middle East: from Gaza, where its influence is overshadowed by Egypt’s; to Yemen, where its participation in the Arab coalition has been suspended.

Qatar is in no better shape at home, where an opposition movement is challenging government policy, which Doha has responded to with harsh punitive measures.

Indeed, Qataris have grown increasingly frustrated with their country’s fall from grace in the region and are unhappy with their alignment with Iran and Turkey. A survey released last October by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy indicated that 81% of Qatari nationals who were asked said they hoped the dispute with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain would be settled in an amicable fashion.

Unfortunately, the chasm between Doha and the four Arab countries is growing and the crisis is unlikely to end soon.

This is largely due to Qatar’s aggressive posture and unwillingness to engage in constructive dialogue. Instead of seeking to repair ties through the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Qatar resorted to poorly crafted public relations stunts and risky confrontations with its Arab neighbours.

Doha’s biggest setback has been its failure to regain the trust of its neighbours and, critically, the United States.

This is in no small part due to Qatar’s deepening alliance with Iran at a time the United States and its Arab allies are trying to increase pressure on Tehran. What signal does this send?

Another sign of the Arab world’s growing mistrust of Qatar is Al Jazeera’s loss of credibility. The tenth ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey said Arab youth ranked Al Jazeera as the least credible news source in the region.

There is good reason for this. The Qatar-owned network has long been accused of fomenting unrest and peddling hate. After the 2010-11 series of protests, the channel was considered a tool to prop up the Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist groups and frequently took aim at Arab countries.

Qatar needs to realise that the only way out of the crisis is through the GCC. To prove it is serious about joining the fight against terror, it needs to change its policies, including those specified in the quartet’s list last June.

In the meantime, Qatar will face growing hostility and risk further punitive action or even military escalation, for which it is woefully under-equipped.