Oct
26

Qatar and the Gulf Crisis

In 2017 the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain launched a land, sea, and air blockade of the State of Qatar. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (author of more than ten books on the region) documents the blockade in "Qatar and the Gulf Crisis" (2019). The author notes in the text that the writing of the book took place in 2019, and it was published in 2020. Shortly thereafter, on Jan 5th 2021, the blockade (formally) ended with the Al Ula agreement. The book is a thorough documenting of the blockade. For those interested in the crisis (its origins, a detailed documenting of what happened, and the implications thereof after the Al Ula Agreement) this is a useful book. A few quotes:

"The blockade of Qatar in June 2017 originated in the infiltration of the Qatar News Agency in April, and the implantation the following month of a 'fake news' story about comments purportedly made by Emir Sheikh Tamim at a military graduation ceremony 23 May. The hack that set in motion the most severe rupture in the Gulf since Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 took place within the first six months of the Donald J. Trump presidency in the United States." (p. 67).

"Twelve days separated the hacking of the Qatar News Agency, on the night of 23/24 May 2017, and the start of the blockade on 5 June. The intensity of the online and media campaign during that period, both in English and in Arabic, suggests a plan to create an echo chamber that linked Qatar with the issues that subsequently formed the public justification for the blockade. Qatari officials catalogued a total of 1120 critical articles in Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini media between June and October 2017 alone." (p. 71)

"Qatari policy-makers devised a set of facts- and rights-based responses that contrasted sharply with the sweepingly vague associations leveled against them by officials from the four blockading states. By breaking down the different aspects of the blockade into separate issues, and by seeking arbitration from relevant international bodies, Qatari officials followed a rule-of-law approach which gave weight to institutions of global governance that had been designed to constrain and prevent the reshaping of regional relations through brute force." (p. 6)

"Once the blockade was launched the religious establishment in the blockading states was deployed to legitimize the political action against Qatar. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, issued a fatwa stating that action was being taken against Qatar for the public welfare of all Muslims, while the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, claimed that Qatar's ruling Al Thani family was linked to the Khawarij, a group of dissidents from Sunni Islam whose political and theoretical views were held to be heretical." (p. 95)

"Rather more serious was an extraordinary allegation in November 2017 that a financial institution with suspected links to the UAE had considered engaging in 'financial warfare' intended to bring the Qatari economy to its knees. The outline of the planned assault was said to have been drawn up by Banque Havilland, a Luxembourg-based institution, located in a 'task folder' of an email account that belonged to the Emirati ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, and leaked to journalists working at the Intercept. Under the headline 'Control the yield curve, decide the future,' the document suggested establishing an offshore investment fund to hold Qatari bonds and credit default swaps, and using it to precipitate a run on Qatari debt through 'sham transactions.' This would drive down the price of the bonds and create the impression of panic selling, thereby forcing the Qatar Central Bank to bleed its foreign exchange reserves defending the currency peg." (p. 138) 

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Jan
13

The Gulf Crisis, Views from Qatar

With the potential for an end, or at least easing of tensions, in the GCC, it seems an interesting moment to look back and see what the perspectives were when the crisis started. "The Gulf Crisis: The View from Qatar" (2018), edited by Miller, gives a set of perspectives on a wide range of issues, with contributions written in the first year after the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and closed borders as well as airspace with Qatar. A few notes:

One of the most dramatic shifts for Qatar has been increasing domestic production, notably for food products, but also for a wide range of other commodities that were previously primarily imported. For example, a national food security plan re-oriented the food system, with targets set for domestic production of specific food commodities (notably fresh milk and poultry are to be 100% domestic supply by 2023) and explicit objectives to diversify the sources of imported items. Dr. Ansari (p. 33) says the events will "forever be viewed as a turning point for Qatar's food system", looking back from 2021, this rings just as true today as it did then.

The long-term investment in culture, arts and sport, which long preceded the events of 2017, appear to have had multiple positive benefits for Qatar. One component relates to diversifying the economy, while another acts as a means to build linkages with partners around the world (while FIFA is well publicized, international sporting events are regularly held in Doha). 

Partly due to the external pressures of internationalization (particularly FIFA), during this period Qatar departed from the employment and labour standards from the region, such as making it easier to transfer employers and introducing a higher minimum wage. Although long in the planning, during this period Qatar also moved forward plans to introduce elected members of government (advisory council), which are scheduled for 2021. These, and a number of other domestic policy issues, were transformed during this challenging period, arguably making Qatar much better placed (e.g. investment, residency rights, work) in relation to its neighbours following the crisis (see chapter by Dr. Mitchell). However, the economic growth and investment is not outward, another domestic shift during this period was the development of domestic entrepreneurship. Dr. Tok (p. 39) argued the crisis was an opportunity to foster domestic entrepreneurship. While it is unclear how new businesses will manage in the long term if/when trade fully re-opens, what is clear is that there is a much greater recognition and support for Qatari-produced products.

One interesting contribution of this volume covers a much less reported on aspect of the crisis: its manifestation across Africa. A number of other nations followed suit (Chad, Comoros, Mauritania and Senegal cut diplomatic ties, while Djibouti, Gabon and Niger downgraded their ties). This is covered by Harry Verhoeven (p. 136-144) and should be an area of increasing focus, as the influence of the Gulf expands. As a non-tech expert, the extent of cybercrime (and its central role in the Gulf Crisis), at least in my circle, appears to attract far less attention than it should (see p. 109-118 by Joseph J. Boutros). 

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