Qatar Turns to United States In Efforts to Seek End to Blockade
Eight months into an air, sea, and land blockade on Qatar, the Qatari government is calling for more cooperation and agreement between Arab states. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain initially severed ties with and imposed the blockade on Qatar, citing links to terrorist organizations; however, it was primarily because of Qatar’s close ties with Saudi Arabia’s rival, Iran, that had induced the blockade.
The short term effects of the blockade were severely felt due to Qatar’s dependence on imports by land and sea, and because about 40% of its food came across the land border with Saudi Arabia. However, Turkey and Iran soon came to Qatar’s aid, sending food by air and sea. Although Saudi Arabia was trying to punish Qatar for its relations with Iran, the blockade only forced the two nations to work more closely together, and Iran has received many significant commercial benefits.
Qatar has seemingly been able to manage its domestic affairs and diversify its market in spite of the blockade, which, in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has called a “futile crisis manufactured by our neighbors, some of whom are major regional players, once believed to be stabilizing factors on the world stage.”
When the blockade first began, U.A.E. government spokesman Omar Ghobash said that “this is not a squabble between monarchs, this is a serious conflict and a turning point in our societies… This is a principled stand that we are taking against very powerful negative narratives of Islam being funded by countries like Qatar.”
Although Kuwait has agreed to try to mediate the conflict, the United States now appears ready to take on the role of mediator. Over the next couple of months, leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are scheduled to meet U.S. President Donald Trump.
One interesting aspect of the blockade has been its impact on Qatar’s preparations for the 2022 World Cup. Supply lines that were used on construction projects for the tournament have been interrupted, and a regional championship tournament had to take place in Kuwait, because Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain all refused to participate in a location in Qatar.
In October, U.A.E. security official Dhahi Khalfan tweeted that the blockade would end if Qatar gave up hosting rights to the tournament. Instead, it seems that the tournament will force a breach in the blockade. In January, the Asian Football Confederation declared that all games would take place in their original location, ordering Saudi and Emirati clubs to ignore the blockade in order to play.
Although the forced breach of the blockade for a soccer match doesn’t necessarily indicate a decrease in tension or movement to end the blockade, it does show the importance of trying to mediate the conflict. The countries are stronger when they can work together, and their cooperation is especially important for the fight against the Islamic State and other regional conflicts. The lack of discussion between the nations thus far indicates that it will ultimately come down to the United States to serve the critical role as conflict mediator and promoter of cooperation between the group of nations.