The winner and loser in the Qatar crisis
Diplomatic ties are still severed and embassies remain empty. Qatar still cannot use the Saudi land border and airspace, or Emirati, Saudi and Bahraini waters. The pressure is mostly on Doha, which has no means to punish the ATQ. Sanctions are costing Qatar a lot. It is moving in every direction to compensate for the absence of relations with Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Manama, particularly in terms of their influence on its economic and social life.
It seems Qatar was surprised by the sanctions against it. Yet its economy is relatively small, which enables the government to overcome any shortage with costly local and foreign alternatives. Qatar can continue funding its stance as long as it has surplus income from oil and gas, but the bill will be huge. It will use plenty of its savings at the expense of funding military and political activities in the region.
Losses due to Qatar’s decreased credit rating in the banking sector are yet to be seen. The crisis will affect construction of facilities for the 2022 World Cup. There is also a shortage of foreign laborers due to fear and uncertainty, and for the first time ever Qatar is categorized as among regional countries in crisis. Qatar is acting like it is the biggest and strongest state, but its defiance and arrogance have made its handling of the dispute costly and unsuccessful.
It contacted the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and insisted on forcing the boycotting countries to allow it to use their airspace. But ICAO repeatedly told Qatar it is not responsible for political disputes, and cannot force a country to open its airspace unless there is an emergency. Other international organizations conveyed the same message to Doha.
So to prove that it can be steadfast, Doha transported Qatar Airways passengers via longer routes at higher costs. Qatar exerted great efforts, including making huge deals, to get foreign governments to pressure the ATQ to restore ties with it. Major counties such as the US, Germany, France, the UK and Italy tried to mediate but failed to lift the sanctions.
It seems Qatar was surprised by the sanctions against it. Yet its economy is relatively small, which enables the government to overcome any shortage with costly local and foreign alternatives. Qatar can continue funding its stance as long as it has surplus income from oil and gas, but the bill will be huge.
The ATQ is comfortably observing Qatar in turmoil despite the emirate using all its political, media and financial weapons. It has not managed to get the quartet to take a single step back. The boycott has exhausted Qatar regionally, making it weak in arenas that it considers important, such as Syria, Libya and Iraq. It has also become weaker in its interactions with other states.
Qatar is keen to gain the support of other countries or neutralize them, despite the costs and risks. It is also expediting reconciliation with Iran. Doha’s strategy is to force the ATQ to back down, but eventually it will succumb to pressure and accept most of the quartet’s demands. Qatar wants talks without preconditions, but the ATQ does not have to negotiate because it is in a comfortable position.
The table has turned on Doha, which exported crises to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE. Now Qatar is experiencing a series of crises because of these countries. So after paying a heavy price trying to convince other powers to support it, and after depleting its media resources — all in vain — it will eventually negotiate on the ATQ’s terms. Qatar could have spared itself a lot of trouble and embarrassment by doing so in the first week of the crisis.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.