Comment: By Fathma Khalid
The dispute between Qatar and four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remains unsettled a month after the initial disagreement.
The dispute between Qatar and four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) remains unsettled a month after the initial disagreement. On Friday 7th July, the GCC countries; Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt announced that the designated time period for Qatar to meet their list of demands had passed. They claimed that the inaction by the Qatari government posed a threat to regional security in the Middle East. The four countries have vowed to take political, economic and legal measures in response to Qatar’s refusal to meet their demands. Because of this, spectators expected the 7th July announcement to include measures for further escalation, but the four countries stated that any required action would be taken in due course. Qatar has now announced that it is considering legal action against the four countries to compensate for financial losses caused by the blockade.
For more than a month the four states have maintained an economic embargo on Qatar, stating that the embargo will only be lifted once Qatar complies with their list of demands. The sanctions include the closure of Qatar’s only land border and suspension of all flights to and from the country. The four GCC states had announced that their list of demands had to be met within ten days. They then extended the deadline by a further two days but Qatar refused to comply, saying that the demands were an attempt to undermine their national sovereignty. The list of demands included closing a Turkish military base, shutting down Al Jazeera, and severing alleged ties with groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and ISIS.
One of the accusations made against Qatar was that it was funding terrorism but there has been no evidence provided to support this claim. Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel recently visited Qatar and said that the Qatari government had agreed to cooperate with German intelligence services in order to prove that accusations of state sponsored terrorism are unfounded. Gabriel also expressed concern about the ‘Trumpification’ of the crisis, which could further complicate relations in a region predisposed to volatility.
The US state department has expressed concern that the dispute has reached an impasse that could potentially last for months or even intensify. Kuwait has been attempting to mediate between the two sides of the dispute, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently flew to Kuwait to help with the mediation process. The US has its largest Middle Eastern military base in Qatar which explains its ongoing involvement in the crisis.
A number of commentators have dismissed the demands as unfeasible and draconian. The provision in the 13-point document stating that Qatar must be regularly audited by the four countries over a ten year period indicate the demands are not realistic. This also seems to support Qatar’s claims that the crisis is being used as an excuse to wrestle sovereign power from Qatar.
As well as this, the demands came in to play over two weeks into the crisis which shows that they are not the central reason for the dispute. The four GCC states hold Qatar in contempt for its divergent political ideology and values rather than concerns over security threats. The crisis appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to seize control of Qatar in order to minimise dissidence in the region and to further strengthen the influence of Saudi Arabia and its allies. The Saudi-led quartet have pointed to Qatar’s relationship with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah as a sign that the state supports terrorism and funds regional instability.
However, Qatar has acted and continues to act as a neutral mediator between conflicting sides in local conflicts, which explains why Qatar recognises the legitimacy of groups like these. A number of the accusations made against Qatar are for things for which the four countries themselves could be found guilty for, such as funding insurgent groups. The Qataris see the sanctions and the list of demands as interference in their internal affairs and so are unlikely to comply with the four states on these matters. However, the four GCC countries have stated that their terms are non-negotiable.
Qatar seems to be within its right to ignore this blatant attempt to infringe on its sovereignty and it is reasonable to seek damages for the economic losses that the state has had to suffer as a result of the embargo. Despite this, it seems extremely unlikely that the Saudi-led quartet will drop the charges, let alone repay Qatar for the financial losses incurred. At present, there seems to be no end in sight for this crisis.