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Manish Rai explains why the Saudi-led Arab boycott of Qatar is completely ineffective and contributing to the destabilization of the Middle East. According to Rai, the ongoing crisis is considerably damaging the GCC by dividing it into two camps: the Saudi-led camp and the Qatari-led camp.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani Photo Credit: EPA-EFE
In June of last year, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar for its alleged support for terrorist organizations and for having warm relations with Iran. The Arab neighbors of Doha thought that by imposing this blockade they can force Qatar to discontinuation of its own ambitious foreign policy and to follow the line of its bigger neighbors.
But during the siege period, Qatar signed new military, security, economic, commercial, and other agreements with various other countries. Qatar economy is also showing a 5.5% growth, which is quite impressive. Qatar’s economic fundamentals remain strong as illustrated by its high ratings across by major rating agencies. Economists also believe Qatar with its strong fundamentals will outperform its peers in the GCC region this year in view of its economic diversification, while, on the other hand, Saudi Arabia will enter contraction amid oil production cuts and spending rationalization by the government.
Doha’s hydrocarbon exports have continued unhindered and new sea trade routes have been established. Now, the Qatari government is aiming to achieve a higher degree of self-sufficiency in the food sector, which was worse affected because of this blockade as Qatar imports most of its food requirements.
To summarize, this blockade of Qatar has proved to be ineffective or rather it has been counterproductive. Now that Doha has been able to bear the initial shock of the blockade and it has re-oriented itself to accommodate the new ground realities, Qatar will be much adventurous in pursuing its independent foreign policy. Hardly any state has ever changed its character so completely in so short period of time like Qatar has done. Earlier, just satisfied to play a role according to its small size, Qatar was a traditional, conservative a risk-averse Gulf monarchy until the early 1990s. But after the bloodless coup in 1995 brought to power an emerging elite with an ambitious vision for the future and enormous wealth by gas exports and protection by the United States, Doha diversified its foreign relations and even included untouchables in the Arab world- Iran and Israel- in its diplomacy.
Instead of summiting to the demand of its Gulf neighbors of distancing itself from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar has only deepened its alliances with Iran and Turkey and it’s now supporting brotherhood affiliates, especially Hamas, with greater funding. Recently, Turkey sent additional troops to its base in Doha and Iranian shipping lines have now switched their transport services to Qatar, instead of the UAE and Oman. Hence this blockade has pushed Doha closer to Iran and Turkey, which are eager to increase their sphere of influence into Arabian Peninsula.
Since the beginning of a new assertive foreign policy of Qatar after 1995, the Qatari regional role hasn’t followed simple alliance structures. It has mediated and interacted in regional issues. It adopted a very delicate approach towards its foreign relations in regard to regional and international actors, a balancing act which until now played an important role in raising Qatar’s international profile as a regional power broker and an important nation in regional power dynamics.
On one hand, Qatar monetarily supported Islamists movements like Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood and on the other hand, yet, it enjoys cordial relationships with Europe and the U.S. But now to add more tooth to its foreign policy aspirations, Qatar is also very eagerly pursuing its militarization. Recently, it acquired Chinese-made short range SY-400 ballistic missiles, which was demonstrated on its national day. Qatar has also spent tens of billions of dollars on new fighter jets, tanks and warships. Qatar no longer wants to be dependent only on the US and Turkey for its protection. Now, it wishes to become a middle-level military power in the region so that it can pursue its policy without any fear, although any military attack against it is unlikely.
This tug of war between Qatar and its Arab neighbors has the potential to spark a much larger conflict as no side is willing to de-escalate this crisis. This kind of continuing crisis in the Gulf could have detrimental effects on the rest of the Middle East. In this sense, more Arab states would be destabilized as they are pressured to choose sides. Iranian and Turkish influence would certainly increase in the region. This power game will definitely lead to a state of polarization at a regional level and will result in an expansion of proxy wars against each other.
With the continuation of this crisis, another significant effect will be on the institution of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is already being divided into two camps- one led by Saudi Arabia, which includes UAE and Bahrain, while the other camp consists of Qatar with the tacit support of Oman and Kuwait. This ongoing crisis will make GCC a totally ineffectual institution like Arab League. The GCC as an organization will become greatly marginalized, dysfunctional, and irrelevant and as a result of this, the dream of GCC of a common currency and a defense union will be next to impossible to achieve in near future. In the time of global integration, this kind of regional disintegration will severely cost everyone.