Qatar boycott continues as Gulf row drags on into fourth year

All indicators point to a long, unwavering estrangement.
Tuesday 02/06/2020
Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar's Prime Minister, during the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held inc Riyadh last December. (AFP)
Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani, Qatar's Prime Minister, during the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit held inc Riyadh last December. (AFP)

LONDON - The bitter feud between Doha and its neighbours is now dragging into the fourth year with no end in sight as hopes for a quick end to the crisis have been dashed and all indicators point to a long, unwavering estrangement.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic, economic and travel ties with Qatar over Doha’s alleged support for terrorist groups and its close ties with arch-rival Iran. Other countries also imposed less stringent sanctions on Doha.

Days after the diplomatic row, Saudi Arabia and its allies issued 13 sweeping demands of Qatar in order to lift their boycott, including the closure of the Doha-based Al-Jazeera news network and shuttering of a Turkish military base. They also demanded Doha curb its relations with Riyadh's arch-rival Iran and stop its alleged support for extremist groups.

Qatar rejected the demands, calling them "unrealistic" and "not actionable."

In late July 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies doubled down, demanding that Qatar take action against some 18 alleged extremist individuals and entities. The list was later expanded to include some 90 names.

Around the turn of the year, there were indications that relations were cooling, but all overtures have so far come to nothing.

In December 2019, Qatar’s emir declined an invitation by Saudi Arabia to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh, sending then-prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani instead.

In February 2020, Qatar’s foreign minister revealed that talks with Saudi Arabia were suspended a month earlier, but said Doha “remains open if there are any benign efforts to resolve the issue.”

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the rift, a flurry of posts surfaced on social media, including claims Qatar is considering quitting the GCC.

On May 28, Qatar’s foreign ministry denied the reports but warned that people of the region are having "doubts" about the credibility of the bloc because of its failure to remedy the diplomatic crisis.

Doha’s denial that it plans to pull out of the organisation came after a flurry of trips by Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who travelled to Oman and Kuwait in an attempt to help break the country’s diplomatic isolation.

During his visits, al-Thani conveyed messages from Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani to Kuwaiti Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah and Omani Sultan Haitham Bin Tariq al-Said.

Oman and Kuwait are the other two members of the GCC, which oversees regional economic and military coordination.

On May 27, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al Sabah arrived in Saudi Arabia for a short visit to deliver a written message to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud from the Kuwaiti emir.

The move indicated that Kuwait could be trying to revive mediation efforts to resolve the longstanding crisis as Gulf countries face mounting economic and security challenges.

The region has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, a decline in global oil prices and connected social and economic challenges but Doha has a particular stake in putting an end to the Gulf dispute.

Qatar continues to feel the brunt of the diplomatic and economic boycott by the Arab quartet led by Saudi Arabia. It witnessed last week a rare protest by foreign labourers over unpaid wages.

Since the beginning of the diplomatic crisis, Qatar has launched a media campaign against boycotting GCC states, which it says are acting unjustly with their demands.