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Q&A: What is happening with Qatar?

  • Published at 04:01 pm June 6th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:04 pm June 6th, 2017

On May 23 this year, Qataris woke up to news of a hack attributing “false statements” to the emir of Qatar. The news was aired on several UAE and Saudi-owned networks in the Gulf. This sparked a series of diplomatic breakdowns between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The latest developments include severing of diplomatic ties between three Gulf states and Qatar, an embargo imposed on Qatar, with air, sea and land borders shut down, and Qatari diplomats and residents expelled from those Gulf countries.

Here is a breakdown of the latest diplomatic crisis and what it entails for the region.

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When did Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut ties with Qatar?

The announcements came in the early morning of June 5. Bahrain was the first to announce the severing of ties, it was followed shortly after by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt made their announcements within 10 minutes. Yemen and the Maldives then joined four Arab countries in severing relations with gas-rich Qatar.

Why did these countries cut ties with Qatar?

The first four countries have cited their concern over the security and stability of their nations, claiming that Qatar works to support "terrorism" and to meddle in the internal affairs of its brethren in the GCC.

What does the cutting of ties entail?

The severing of ties as a diplomatic concept usually entails a recall of diplomatic representatives and the closing of diplomatic missions by the country that is taking the step. The country initiating the move can also ask the diplomatic representatives of the other party to leave their country. This is usually utilised by governments at times of serious complications in relations between states.

In the case of the current Gulf crisis, several other dimensions have been added. Bahrain and Egypt both gave Qatari embassies 48 hours to implement their respective departure orders, while recalling their own diplomats and charge d'affaires.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia gave Qatari citizens who are residents in or visiting the UAE two weeks to depart. They have also ordered their citizens in Qatar to return.

Saudi Arabia went further, asked Qatar to withdraw their troops from the ongoing war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is leading the campaign.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt closing land, air and sea passage to all vessels and vehicles coming from or going to Qatar.

What was Qatar's response to this?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar responded to the announcements on Monday, saying that there is "no legitimate justification" for the actions taken by the four countries to sever diplomatic relations. It added that the decision is a "violation of its sovereignty" and that it will work to ensure that it does not affect the citizens and residents of Qatar.

What are the roots of this conflict?

There was a previous diplomatic rift in 2014 between Qatar and other Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain pulled out their diplomats claiming that Qatar supported armed insurgent groups. However, the border remained open and Qataris were not expelled. Tensions with Qatar have generally revolved around its alleged support for political Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as complaints about the Al Jazeera Media Network, which is based in Doha. These tensions were possibly exacerbated by the Arab Spring in 2011, when Saudi Arabia and Qatar were seen as backing different sides.

Is the GCC going to survive?

Kuwait's emir is mediating between the GCC countries involved in the current dispute. The emir is expected to travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to attempt to bridge the gap. According to Giorgio Cafiero of Gulf State Analytics, a geopolitical risk consultancy based in Washington, DC, both Kuwaitis and Omanis believe that an escalation of the conflict could be detrimental to the future of the GCC.

Are there any food crisis in Doha?

There was a short panic on Monday as residents of Doha were worried about the effect of border closures on food supplies. The Qatari cabinet issued a statement saying that there was no need to worry, and today the situation appears to have calmed, although pictures of fully stocked supermarket shelves were less exciting and are only slowly making the rounds.

What are the consequences for people living in Qatar?

In response to the closing of borders, people in Qatar flocked to supermarkets to stock up on food just in case the fallout drags on. There was also a surge of people at currency exchange kiosks, but the banks in Qatar seemed to be unfased.

Qatar's estimated $335bn of assets in its sovereign wealth fund, along with its newly expanded port that allows it to continue exporting natural gas and importing sea goods, the small Gulf nation could weather the sanctions.

Qatar's main stock index fell more than 7%.

Due to their heavy reliance on oil and gas exports, the GCC states maintain weak trade and investment ties with each other, which will limit the economic effects of their dispute.

Are flight routes affected?

According to Alan Peaford, editor-in-chief of Aerospace Magazine, Qatar Airways' flight routes will be the most disrupted if Gulf airspaces are closed off. He added that there are two main air routes in and out of Qatar, over Saudi Arabia and Bahrain with the latter controlling most of the Gulf airspace.

"The real problem would be if airspace closes. Not just for Qatar Airways passengers, but also for cargo, like food and fresh fruit that is flown into the country," Peaford said.

Is Iran using this as an opportunity to gain Qatar as an ally?

Following the borders shutdown, Iran offered Qatar food shipments. Reza Nourani, chairman of Iran's union of agricultural exporters, said these transfers can reach Doha in 12 hours.

Several Iranian officials have called for dialogue and mediation. Iran's foreign ministry spokesperson, Bahram Ghasemi, said that the tensions would only threaten the interests of everyone in the region.

According to Mahjoob Zweiri, a Middle East expert at Qatar University, a lengthy dispute may empower Iran in the region, especially if the tension between the Gulf countries escalates.

How is the US involved?

The GCC rift does follow Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met leaders of the Arab world. The night before Trump's visit, the former US defence secretary, Robert Gates, offered a scathing assault on Qatar, criticised its support for "Islamists".

The speech was delivered at a high-profile Washington conference, where Gates said, "Tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base".

After the dispute, the White House stated that Trump wants to help sort out the diplomatic rift.

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