15 June 2017

Africa: Understanding the Qatar Question

Photo: RFI
Qatar's Doha.

In response to allegations of Qatar's tolerance of terrorism, the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt issued a Press statement on June 8, 2017, which effected an air, sea and land blockade of Qatar.

The Qatar regime responded defiantly, arguing that the blockade was illegal and will not result in a crisis because Doha will always find a way of circumventing the blockage and hitting back at the aggressors.

Finance Minister for Qatar Ali Shareef Al Emedi vowed that "if we are going to lose a dollar, they will lose a dollar also". Qatar has also argued that while the rift is unfortunate, they will not allow anyone to dictate their foreign policy.

This follows Qatar's refusal to cooperate with other Arab countries in shunning terrorist activities that have shaken the Gulf region.

The disgruntled Arab nations have joined forces in closing the airline links with Qatar. This is most likely to impact negatively on Qatar Airways business worldwide and the loss of significant airline jobs for citizens of Qatar, Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) and a good number of employees from African countries.

The Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) in 2014 announced that "$45 billion will be allocated to develop Qatar's tourism industry by 2030 as part of the National Tourism Sector Strategy 2030".

Qatar was aiming to attract seven million tourists, which was expected to make a significant contribution to the economy. The diplomatic crisis also threatens a 160 billion pounds of World Cup building plans. These plans may collapse with disastrous consequences to the economy.

It is, however, instructive to note that Qatar has clearly expressed its position to its Arab neighbours that its national interests are best served outside the Gulf agreement of fighting terrorism.

Qatar seems not to be making efforts to reunify the Arab world. And this is most likely to pose more threats and danger to its sovereignty and the security of the region as a whole.

Qatar has taken a dangerous path as it may be difficult for it to re-harmonise relations with the Arab countries. However, as a result of the interdependence that has been going on for a long time, the Arab countries might find it difficult to completely let go of Qatar as it has something to offer.

Qatar is dependent on food imports from its Gulf neighbours to feed its population of 2,5 million and the business is worth billions of dollars. Qatar's behaviour of supporting terrorist groups, if proven true, will be a big setback for peace in the Gulf region's quest for fighting terrorism. It acceded to the Terrorist Bombings Convention on June 27, 2008, a treaty that included measures to eliminate international terrorism.

However, recent behaviour has proved that international treaties have no power in controlling state behaviour in certain circumstances like the national interest consideration of Qatar, which are taking precedence in this case.

The isolation of Qatar from the Arab world has threatened Qatar's defence position. This explains why Turkey has recently deployed troops in Qatar to reinforce its territorial integrity.

Iran has also intervened forcefully to supply the needs of Qatar as a way of rendering the blockade ineffective while many countries -- Arab and non-Arab countries -- are supporting a mediation initiative to break the diplomatic impasse.

If diplomacy is not allowed to work, this would trigger a major regional conflict which will most likely attract non-regional allies of Qatar to join the conflict. The result will be too ghastly to contemplate.

World supply of oil will definitely be reduced significantly and this will impact negatively on the world economy. A change in policy by Qatar might propel a turnaround with regard to the tension that has arisen in the Gulf region. This scenario, however, is unlikely to happen as Qatar believes that its Qatar Charities do not promote terrorism but its national interests. Some countries within the region and outside may boycott this air, sea and land blockade and continue trading, thereby making the sanctions ineffective and reinforcing Qatar's position.

The world must therefore set in motion a series of diplomatic initiatives to calm nerves of the disputants with a view to negotiate a comprehensive settlement for the benefit of Qatar, the Gulf region and the international community.

Cathrine Mudyanadzo is a Harare-based International Relations and political analyst.

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