Qatar and the Gulf countries: chronology of a diplomatic conflict

Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and of being a destabilizing actor in the región
The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani

Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates decided on 5 June 2017 to break off diplomatic ties with Qatar, isolating the small Gulf emirate, which three years later is still accused of supporting terrorism and destabilizing security in the region. This rift between the Arab quartet and Qatar is one of the most serious diplomatic crises between the Gulf countries in recent years. On that day, Riyadh announced the breaking off of relations and the closure of all land, sea and air ports to all means of transport coming from or going to that country. Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain followed the same step as their neighbour and announced the breaking-off of relations with Doha, an announcement that was accompanied by a series of economic measures, such as the aforementioned closure of borders and the imposition of restrictions on the movement of Qatari in these nations. The economic, political and social impacts resulting from this rupture have not changed Qatar who, according to the Arab quartet, continues to support terrorism and play a subversive role in the region.

The president of the United States entered the scene to open fire on Qatar the day after this rupture took place. "During my recent trip to the Middle East I declared that the radical ideology cannot be financed anymore. The leaders aimed at Qatar. Look!", said the American magnate through the social network Twitter.  A few hours later, several Arab and African countries began to show their support for the Arab quartet's decision. On June 8, 2017, Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates issued a joint statement alleging that 59 people and 12 foundations in Qatar were linked to "terrorism". ​​​​​​​

El presidente iraní Hassan Rouhani estrecha la mano del Emir de Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
AFP PHOTO / HO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY - In an archive photo on the official website of the Iranian Presidency on 12 January 2020, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani after a joint press conference in Tehran

In the same month, the so-called Arab quartet demanded that its neighbour comply with a list of demands, including the closure of the Al Jazeera television station and a Turkish military base on Qatari soil. In addition, Riyadh insisted that Qatar stay away from the Islamic Republic of Iran, a historic enemy of Saudi Arabia. Doha - which has always denied accusations of terrorism - responded by stating that the "demands are realistic". A month later, a second "terrorist blacklist" and entities backed by Qatar reappeared. In response, the Qatar government announced the return of its ambassador to Iran and its desire to improve diplomatic relations with Tehran, in opposition to the demands of the Arab quartet. However, Doha did support Kuwait's offer of mediation to end the severance of diplomatic relations with its neighbours.

AFP/ KARIM JAAFAR - Sede de la Red de Medios de Comunicación de Al Jazeera, en la capital de Qatar, Doha
AFP / PALACIO REAL SAUDÍ / BANDAR AL-JALOUD - This combination of images shows a photo of King Salman bin Abdulaziz and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani

In September 2017 there was a brief rapprochement between Saudi Arabia after a phone call to discuss the crisis. On September 8, 2017, the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad, spoke with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to express his desire to sit at the dialogue table and discuss the demands of the four countries in a manner that would guarantee the interests of all. A day later, Riyadh announced the suspension of any dialogue with Doha until it made a clear statement on its position publicly. 

The US government has maintained good relations with Qatar in recent years, precisely because this nation is home to one of the most important US air bases in the Middle East. In an effort to obtain the support of the American nation, the Emir of Qatar traveled to Washington to negotiate the possibility of mediating the dispute between Washington and Tehran. Qatar, despite its small size (11,586 square kilometers), has managed to become an important player in the region, despite the blockade imposed by the Arab quartet, who believe that Doha is capable of exercising this influence thanks to the "lies and accusations" launched against the countries of the Arab quartet, according to the newspaper Al Ain. 

Una foto de la oficina del líder Supremo de Irán, el Ayatolá Alí Jomenei
AFP PHOTO / HO / LEADER.IR - A photo from the office of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomenei, at a meeting with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, in the Iranian capital, Tehran, on 12 January 2020

On September 7, 2019, Riyadh confirmed that the decision to cut diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar was the result of the activities that this nation had carried out against the Gulf Kingdom since 1995, as well as its "close relationship with terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh or Al Qaeda.  Saudi Arabia defended its determination at the time, arguing that it was a sovereign decision it had made under the umbrella of international law. 

El ministro de Asuntos Exteriores de Arabia Saudí Adel al-Jubeir junto a sus homólogos de EAU, Egipto y Bahréin
PHOTO/REUTERS - Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir with his counterparts from UAE, Egypt and Bahrain discussing the diplomatic situation with Qatar, in Cairo, Egypt, on July 5, 2017

This situation was turned upside down again in December 2019 after Qatar's foreign minister, Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al Zani, highlighted the progress that had been made with Saudi Arabia to end the diplomatic crisis in these countries. However, this rapprochement was only a mirage, since barely a month later, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Riyadh made clear in one of his speeches his position regarding Qatar, explaining that this diplomatic crisis continues in part because of Doha's support for certain terrorist groups and armed militias in the conflicts in Libya and Syria, along with powers such as Turkey and Iran. ​​​​​​​

The third anniversary of the Arab boycott of Qatar comes at a time when internal crises are weakening the regime led by Hamad and in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis caused by the coronavirus.  The international organization Human Right Watch urged Doha last month to take urgent action to better protect prisoners and prison officials after the presence of this pathogen was confirmed in a jail of the capital. "'The Qatari authorities must act quickly to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus that could infect prisoners, prison staff, and residents of Doha," said Michael Page, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for the Middle East. "Qatar can start by releasing vulnerable prisoners, such as the elderly and those detained for low-level or non-violent crimes, and ensuring that the remaining prisoners have adequate access to medical care," he stated. 

El presidente de Turquía, Recep Tayyip Erdogan da la mano al Jeque Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir de Qatar.
AFP PHOTO / TURKISH PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE / KAYHAN OZER - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar

In this context, Qatar and Turkey have continued to strengthen their partnership, which has not been welcomed by the international community. The country headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be able to obtain up to 10 billion dollars in reserves to shore up the position of the lira, which registered the lowest value in its history at the beginning of May. Thanks to this agreement, Qatar will export its products to the Turkish market and receive its price in Turkish lira, while Turkey will export its products to the Qatari market and receive its price in Qatari rials, with a maximum limit of 15 billion dollars, which will be authorized between the two countries to settle the exchange values, according to the newspaper Al Ain. The same newspaper reported on Friday on Al Jazeera, one of the region's best-known media, which has been accused by Saudi Arabia and its Arab partners of "lack of impartiality". The newspaper Al Ain believes that the information broadcast on this television channel demonstrates "its support for terrorism and its glorification of murderers and terrorists, and its conspiracies against the leaders and symbols of the Gulf States". 

Sede de la Red de Medios de Comunicación de Al Jazeera, en la capital de Qatar, Doha
AFP/ KARIM JAAFAR - Al Jazeera Media Network headquarters in the Qatari capital, Doha

For its part, The Arab Weekly defends the idea that "Qatar and its media and financial machinery are at the service of Turkey's expansion plans". In an article published on Friday, they lament the fact that the Qataris are so "desperate" to end this crisis and underline Doha's links with extremist groups or governments such as Iran. However, the Arab quartet has not given up and has stressed that either the thirteen declared conditions are met or this diplomatic rupture will become permanent. ​​​​​​​

As for Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia defends that this channel "is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood" and is used as "a platform to attack countries like Egypt. "It is clear that the regime in Qatar has learned nothing from the harsh isolation imposed on the country. Doha has continued with its simplistic arguments and its superficial approach based on the possibility of mitigating its country's isolation from the immediate Gulf environment and the Arab countries by resorting to both Iran and Turkey," the Saudi newspaper criticises. While Ankara pursues its ambitions with the support of Doha, Qatar continues being the main victim of one of the most serious diplomatic conflicts in the region in the recent years. ​​​​​​​