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Diplomatic Tensions and Threat to Peace in Gulf Region

Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani (R) attends the opening meeting of the Arab Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, in the South Sinai governorate, south of Cairo, March 28, 2015. Arab League heads of state will hold a two-day summit to discuss a range of conflicts in the region, including Yemen and Libya, as well as the threat posed by Islamic State militants. REUTERS/Stringer – RTR4V98K

Unless on-going initiatives by concerned neighbours like Kuwait yield the desired results, the international
community might as well be prepared for a major crisis between Qatar and her fellow Arab nations under the aegis of the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC).

International Relations expert were mostly agreed last week that should the on-going crisis in the Gulf region simmer any further, international peace and economic development would be compromised given their pre-eminent positions in international trade, especially the oil and gas business.

History of the Crisis:

Relationship between Qatar and her neighbors particularly, Saudi Arabia, has been frosty for a long time. It started in 1995 when Qatar commenced commercial production of gas from its North Field reserves, the World’s richest gas field which it shares with Iran, easily Saudi Arabia’s greatest rival in the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia was miffed that Qatar cooperated with Iran by slowing down on gas production from the shared field until Iran also got her acts together to increase the pace of gas production.

Over a short period of time, Qatar become one of the World’s richest nations as  the largest exporter of gas, with a per capital income of $130,000.  While Qatar focused on gas production, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries were focusing more and priding themselves as the richest exporters of oil. As it turned out the increasing global demand for gas to generate electricity and fuel industrial production has placed Qatar ahead of the other GCC countries in international oil and gas trade.

The wealth made from gas exports gave the country impetus to develop independence in the articulation and management of her foreign policy and thus forged closer ties with US and Iran to the annoyance of Saudi Arabia which hitherto regarded Qatar as part of her Kingdom. Qatar proceeded to set up Al-Jazeera Television network which the GCC countries have severally complained about its reportage of certain events.

Also Qatar has provided its territory for Turkey to establish a Military base just as the US Central Command in the region is in Qatar. The country agreed in 2016 to invest a whopping $2.7billion of its Sovereign Wealth Fund in Russia’s state oil company, Roseneft Oil Co, thus securing the confidence of Russia in international politics.

The Latest Crisis:

The last six weeks have been marked by tension, anxiety, accusations and counter-accusations with each party flexing muscles and pulling the necessary strings in order to have advantage in the ensuing diplomatic stand-off.

The diplomatic imbroglio started with the visit in May, to Saudi Arabia, by US President, Donald Trump.

During the visit, Trump advised the Gulf countries and “all nations of conscience” to isolate Iran and stop funding extreme ideologies and violent religious (terrorist) organizations. Members of the GCC-Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates(UAE), Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain all interpreted Trump’s advice to have been directed at Qatar whom they have repeatedly accused of supporting groups like Hamas, the Brotherhood and other extreme ideological groups.

Trump in his tweeter account also indicated that the GCC countries pointed at Qatar as being behind the terrorist organizations in the Arabian Peninsula.

On May 23, there was a statement on the official website of Qatar which quoted the country’s Emir of  saying his country would maintain ties with Iran and continue her relationship with the terror organizations. The “news” on the website was aired on broadcast networks from Saudi Arabia and UAE.

Qatar denied the “false news” claiming that the website was hacked into and the statement planted by Qatari adversaries.

GCC Reaction:

The GCC reacted angrily and took  turns on June 5, to announce a number of measures against Qatar. These include severing of diplomatic ties with Qatar and the immediate expulsion of Qatari diplomats. The countries also directed their citizens living in Doha to return home. In the addition, the GCC members including Egypt imposed economic sanctions including the shut down of air, sea and land borders against Qatar. Saudi Arabia even withdrew Qatari troops participating in the coalition forces in the military operations in Yemen. On the whole ten countries including Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Eastern Government of Libya, Maldives, Mauritana, Senegal, and Comoros have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar. Other countries like Jordan, Djibouti, Chad and Niger downgraded diplomatic relations with Qatar.

Not done, the GCC countries also demanded of Qatar to close down Al-Jazeera and renounce support of Brotherhood, Hamas and the other terrorist groups within 10 days and downgrading relations with Iran, considered a foe of the Arab countries and closing down a a Turkish military base in the Arabian peninsula.

Qatar’s Response:

The ultimatum given the GCC elapsed without any form of willingness from Qatar to comply with the demands. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in response to the measures from GCC said there was “no legitimate justification” for the measures taken by GCC and declared unequivocally that the measures constituted “violation of sovereignty”.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurahman Al Thani early last week transmitted his country’s official response to the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah Al Amhad Al Sabah, who has offered to mediate in the crisis.

Al Thani made it clear that the measures were “unrealistic and not actionable” adding “its not about terrorism, its about shutting down the freedom of speech.”

“The state of Qatar has adopted a very constructive attitude since the beginning of the crisis. We are trying to act mature and discuss the matter”, he stated.

Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt were scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 12, to discuss Qatar’s response and possibly adopt further measures against the gas-rich country.

It was not clear at press time what the additional measures would be but already the measures adopted so far have clear implications on international trade and economy.

For instance, Qatar, a major Carrier in the gulf region had to route its flights outside the airspace of all the countries following of the shutting down of air space, land and sea borders as part of the sanctions by the GCC countries and allies. This will n doubt affect air travels in the sub-region.

Similarly, gas supply to these countries from Qatar will cease at least as long as the sanctions last while movement of personnel will stop as long as the ban lasts.

There were even fears that the GCC might coalesce to force Qatar to shut down Al-Jazeera or end her relations with Iran. The countries might secure the backing of US whose President has already identified Qatar as a supporter of terrorist organisations.

Besides, America’s opposition to Iran’s alleged nuclear programme would be the basis for support any anti-Iran measure, even if indirectly from the anti-Qatar forces.

Finally, should Russia reason that Qatar was being undermined, she could join forces with the tiney country to repel the American-inspired GCC countries. This scenario could lead to possible conflagration, the consequence of which will be difficult to foretell.

And given the dominance of Saudi Arabia in the oil Cartel-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC), any armed conflict in the region will affect oil output and cause  dis-equilibrium in the supply chain with the attendant consequences on global prices.

The way out them would to give a chance to Kuwait and other willing mediators in the crisis to forestall any unpleasant dimension of the diplomatic imbroglio.

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