Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 203, 14 December 2020

Qatar: Saudi Arabia announces breakthrough in the Gulf diplomatic crisis
Lakshmi V Menon

In the news
On 5 December, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud announced a breakthrough in the seemingly intractable Gulf diplomatic dispute. He said that all nations involved in the crisis were "on board" for a resolution and added that a final agreement could be expected soon. Prince Faisal said, "we are in full coordination with our partners in this process and the prospects that we see are very positive towards a final agreement," while adding that the envisioned resolution "covers all aspects and is satisfactory to all parties involved."

Issues at large
First, the crisis in brief. On 5 June 2017, Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, severed all ties with Qatar. The bloc imposed a land, sea and air embargo on Qatar, accusing the state of having ties deemed "too close" with Iran and embracing "various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region". They also put forth a 13-point ultimatum for Qatar, which included curbing ties with Iran and closing of the Al Jazeera Media Network. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia suspended activities with Qatar in its Yemen campaign. In response, Doha rejected all accusations as baseless and expressed readiness for dialogue.

Second, Turkey's role in the strengthening of Qatar against the blockade. Qatar shares a land border with Saudi Arabia in the south. The Persian Gulf surrounds the rest of its territory. Due to Doha's heavy dependence on the Saudi Arabia bloc for food products and multi-sectoral trade, the blockade served a severe blow. However, in less than two weeks, Turkish goods began flowing into Qatar, replacing the products from Saudi Arabia. 

Third, the US push to defuse the tension. Donald Trump's administration along with his adviser Jared Kushner has been pushing for the blockade's end, which would lead to a united Gulf against Iran. The latter would expand Washington's policy of containment of Iran through 'maximum pressure'.

In perspective
First, it would be a limited Doha-Riyadh rapprochement. Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE have remained Qatar's most vocal critic since the embargo. They are also unwilling to acknowledge any such breakthrough which could lead to a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In 2019, a similar hope of the crisis' end surfaced but quickly faded. However, Prince Faisal maintains that a broader thaw is being negotiated. 

Second, Qatar's self-reliance. Over the three years of the Gulf crisis, Qatar has emerged more independent with flourishing multi-dimensional businesses and extensive dairy farms capable of providing for its population. 

Third, as Saudi Arabia's rapprochement decision arrives, ground realities require evaluation. With a thaw in sight, Qatar is far less dependent on Riyadh. The 13-point demands by the Saudi Arabia-led bloc have been dismissed by Qatar, and the media network of Al-Jazeera is stronger today than before. Riyadh will be re-establishing ties with a Qatar that is self-reliant, closer to Turkey and has attended the Kuala Lumpur summit. Clearly, the Saudi Arabian-bloc has not seen many victories.

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