By Manish Rai
Last year in June Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a land, sea, and air blockade on Qatar for its alleged support to terror outfits and being too close to Iran. The Arab neighbours thought that by imposing this blockade they can pressurise Qatar to set aside its own ambitious foreign policy and toe the line of its bigger neighbours. But during the siege period, new military, security, economic, commercial, media and other agreements have been signed by Qatar. The Qatar economy is also witnessing a 5.5% growth, which is pretty impressive. Economic fundamentals remain sound as illustrated by the high ratings across by major ratings agencies. Economists also believe Qatar with its strong fundamentals will outperform its peers in the GCC this year in view of its economic diversification, while on the other hand Saudi Arabia will enter contraction amid oil production cuts and spending rationalisation by the government. Doha’s hydrocarbon exports have continued uninterrupted, new sea trade routes have been established. Now state is aiming to achieve higher degree of self-sufficiency in food sector which was worse effected because of this blockade as Qatar imports most of its food requirements.
To put it in nutshell, this blockade of Qatar has proved to be ineffective or rather I say it has been counterproductive. Now that Doha has been able to absorb the initial shock of the siege and it has re-oriented itself to accommodate the new facts on the ground, Qatar will be much bolder in pursuing its independent foreign policy. Rarely any state changed its character so completely in such short period of time like Qatar has done. Earlier content to play a role according to its small size, Qatar was a traditional, risk-averse Gulf monarchy until the early 1990s. But the bloodless coup in 1995 brought to power an emerging elite with an ambitious vision for the future. Heavily funded by gas exports and protected by United States. Qatar diversified its foreign relations and even included untouchables in Arab world, that is Iran and Israel, in its diplomacy. Instead of submitting to the demand of Gulf states of distancing itself from Iran and Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar has only deepened its alliances with Iran and Turkey and it’s supporting Brotherhood affiliates especially Hamas with greater resources now. For quite a while Qatar has been a supporter of Muslim Brotherhood political Islam. Recently Turkey sent additional troops to its base in Doha and Iranian shipping lines have now switched their transport services to Qatar, instead of the UAE and Oman.
Since the beginning of new assertive foreign policy after 1995, Qatari regional role didn’t follow simple alliance structures but, it mediated and interacted in regional issues. It adopted a very delicate posture towards its foreign relations in regards to regional and international actors, a balancing act which until now played an important role in raising Qatar’s international profile as a regional power broker and an indispensable nation in regional power dynamics. On one hand, Qatar supported monetarily Islamist movements like Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood and on the other hand, yet, it enjoys cordial relationships with Europe and U.S. But now to add more weight to its foreign policy aspirations, Qatar is also very eager to expand its arsenal recently it acquired Chinese-made short range ballistic missiles SY-400. Qatar has also spent tens of billions of dollars on new fighter jets, tanks and warships. It no longer want to depend only on US and Turkey for its protection it wishes to become a middle level military power in the region. So that it can pursue its policy without any fear and any military attack against it is unlikely.
This tussle between Qatar and its Arab neighbours could spark a much larger conflict as no side is compromising on its stand. This kind of continuing crisis in the Gulf could have detrimental effects on the rest of the Middle East. In this sense, more Arab states would be destabilised as they are pressured to choose sides. Iran and Turkey influence would certainly increase in the region. This power game will definitely lead to a state of polarization at a regional level and will result in expansion of proxy wars against each other. With the continuation of this crisis, another significant effect will be on the institution of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which is already being divided into two camps: one led by Saudi Arabia and includes UAE and Bahrain and another camp consists of Qatar with tacit support of Oman and Kuwait. This ongoing crisis will make GCC a totally ineffective institution like Arab League. The GCC as an organisation will become greatly marginalised, dysfunctional, and irrelevant, as a result of which the dream of GCC for a common currency and defence union will be next to impossible to achieve in near future. In the time of global integration this kind of regional disintegration will have a severe cost for everyone.
(Author is a columnist for Middle-East and Af-Pak region and Editor of geo-political news agency Viewsaround. Currently based in Doha, he can be reached at [email protected])
Also published on Medium.