Qatar Embargo

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By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

East African nations are the most recent countries to join diplomatic protests against Qatar, as the crises enter the fourth month since June 2017. The emirate in the Gulf Region continues to get affected economically.

The Horn of Africa including Senegal, Chad, Niger and Mauritania have severed ties with Qatar, many of them recalling their ambassadors. They have joined the diplomatic isolation along with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and UAE, who have restricted Qatar for using their air space, land border and waters. These countries in Horn of Africa have joined the gulf nations in terms of collective solidarity. Although, Somalia has offered help to meditate on the crises as well.

The diplomatic consequences seem to be causing a great fear in international trade for Qatar, which holds third largest proven reserves of natural gas in the world and is currently bidding for more infrastructural development inside the country. In fact, the crises can spill over to pivotal construction facilities needed for FIFA World Cup 2022.

The Qatari crises started when the gulf coalition gave a 13 point list of demands in June 2017, that included expelling Turkish military forces, severing ties with Iran, closing Al-Jazeera media offices, stopping payments to allegedly terrorist organisations, ending interference in internal affairs of other sovereign countries and being monitored for compliance. When these demands were not met within ten days, an economic-political embargo started and many Qatari nationals, branded as terrorist supporters from the many Gulf States were expelled.

Qatar has all along denied charges of supporting radical groups like Al-Qaeda or Islamic State, but a report has alleged that Qatar has paid a ransom to Iraqi Shia militias and Iranian security officials.

Qatar has also established military bases in the Horn of Africa. It manages seaports there and has contributed to the region with foreign aid in the past. In Sudan, Qatari government sponsors Darfur mediation and keeps good relations. However, Saudi or UAE military may replace withdrawn Qatari peacekeeping forces in Eritrea, which has previously been close to Qatar as well, where Qatar mediated its conflict in Djibouti in 2010.

In the present time, Qatar will most likely lose economic competition in comparison with other gulf countries. It’s successful national airline, Qatar Airways, has been badly affected by the blockade.

With the result, Qatar can largely no longer be a country of influence in the Horn of Africa. In fact, it is struggling domestically. In order to tackle food crises, Iran and Turkey, both Qatari allies, have sent tons of food to the crises ridden country, where previously 40 per cent of food came from land border with Saudi Arabia. Qatar stock market lost over $15 billion in these months of the embargo.

For years, the shores of East Africa have provided important logistical routes for traders to reach Gulf region and vice versa, mostly through Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial checkpoint for oil tankers (worth 4.7 million barrels of oil and hydrocarbon products) coming from Gulf to Europe, that connects Red Sea with Gulf of Aden. Therefore, these facts itself indicate the importance of relations between the Horn of Africa and Gulf region.

Qataris are not surprised by the crises. In fact, to counter crises, many Qatari shipping companies have shifted their regional bases from Dubai’s Jebel Ali port to Port of Sohar in Oman. It indicates that Qatar is making long term preparations for securing economic activities such as logistic services, shipping and passenger ferry operations. Oman may benefit with this action from Qatari policy makers.

Qatar may suffer from the economic loss by the closure of Bab-el-Mandeb Strait. In fact, instability of any kind, from any Gulf country, would force tankers to travel through the southern tip of Africa instead, making logistical operations cumbersome with higher costs and transit time. In fact, Bab-el-Mandeb Strait has remained a lifeline for other gulf states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel and source of a billion-dollar revenue.

These dangerous waters (known as ‘Gate of Grief’ in Arabic) have also promoted activities of smugglers and pirates in recent times and has also suffered amidst the ongoing Saudi-Yemen conflict, including attacked US ships by Houthi rebel movement. The recent debate on the Strait due to Qatar trade embargo also reveals the political volatility of Gulf trade in the area.

Quite recently, UAE also secured a foreign military base in Babe–el-Mandeb Strait in the northern Somali region of Somali land, which may become problematic for Qatar, if diplomatic crises continue.

It also seems as if Saudi Arabia and UAE want to occupy southern Yemen, including Aden Port, Bab el Mandeb strait and wants to isolate Qatar, which has in fact provided aid to build hospitals, schools and homes for the homeless in many war-torn Yemeni provinces since 2015. Qatar Red Crescent has donated over $160,000 for victims of war in areas which are both under Houthi rebel control and Yemeni government control.

Many in Southern Yemen back ‘Southern Movement’ for independence, and support UAE. The Saudis and Yemeni government are currently looking for any proof regarding Qataris supporting Houthis.

There also seems to be some kind of loose strategy implemented by UAE and Saudi Arabia, to counter Iranian expansionism and isolate its regional allies like Qatar, with whom it shares the world’s largest gas field. It is because an Iranian dominated shipping trade in Bab-Al-Mandeb, including Qatari trade, could threaten all shipping trade through Suez Canal.

If USA supports the current political strategy of Saudi Arabia and UAE, then it will be interesting to see how Qatar crises will end, if the USA wishes to intervene.


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