Qatar, between isolation and diplomacy

Qatar, between isolation and diplomacy

Giuseppe Acconcia | Journalist focusing on the Middle East
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The measures taken against Doha by certain Arab countries, which are also welcomed by President Trump, could place the Gulf country in serious difficulty, with the possibility of its Turkish and Iranian "allies" coming to its rescue

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have suspended their diplomatic relations with neighboring Qatar. The accusation against the Gulf country is that it supports Jihadist terrorism. The decision could, as an immediate effect, isolate the country. The country’s main airlines that adopted these measures, to which Yemen and the Maldives have been added, will no longer fly to Doha. Qatar’s diplomatic offices are about to be closed. Broadcasts have been definitively terminated and the offices of Qatar’s Al-Jazeera TV channel have been closed. With the exception of Egypt, the other countries have also announced the expulsion of Qatar citizens from their regions. However, to date, despite the diplomatic crisis, the underwater Dolphin pipeline, which connects Qatar to Abu Dhabi and Oman, is still operational. These measures have come in a context of major political instability following the terrorist attacks that have been carried out on neighboring Iran and the protectionist measures adopted by some countries in the region on gas imports, including Egypt.

The reactions of the US and Turkey's support of Qatar

The obvious decision to isolate the Gulf country has come following major attacks in London in which, on the eve of the vote in the U.K., eight people were killed. The measures were followed by the serious attacks that have been carried out on the Iranian capital. The Iranian Parliament (Majlis) and mausoleum of Imam Khomeini were subject to two suicide bombs, costing the lives of 13 people and claimed by Islamic State (ISIS). These discriminatory measures against Qatar have received praise from U.S. President Donald Trump. According to Trump, the measure could mark the "beginning of the end of international terrorism". However, the Republican leader had specified Qatar as one of the US’s allies during his visit to Riyadh in May 2017. On that occasion, the United States signed agreements providing for the supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia, amounting to $110 billion.
Following the measure aimed at isolating the authorities of Qatar, the Turkish Parliament approved a bill to deploy its troops to the Turkish base under construction in Qatar. According to the local press, the initiative would serve to support the country that "is facing economic and trade union isolation by some of the greatest Middle Eastern powers". The Turkish military base in Qatar was announced in 2016 and, according to the agreements signed with Doha, should accommodate 600 militants.

Cairo attempts to stop gas imports

At the heart of these measures against Qatar, strongly desired by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, is also an attempt to permanently strike the financial, political, media and strategic interests of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf country, an organization that led political opposition in Egypt and Syria, and whose supporters are now fleeing following the consolidation of the presidency of Bashar al-Assad and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Precisely in the last few weeks, the Egyptian authorities have been discussing with the country’s historic gas suppliers to stop the imports already established for 2018, as a result of the increase in domestic production. The attempt of the local authorities is to achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2018. The National Gas Import Agency (EGAS) has confirmed press news, along with Oil Minister Tarek el-Molla. Since mid-2014, Egypt has accounted for 86% of the growth in gas supplies among the new high gas-consuming countries. Local production in the industry is expected to increase by one third by 2020, amounting to 452 million tons. EGAS has already cancelled ten deliveries this year. The Egyptian authorities might want to drastically cut imports, but it is not yet clear how sustainable these measures are for the local economy.

The aggravating nature of political instability

The decision to isolate Qatar, made by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, could have significant effects of a political and economic nature on the country. Turkey and Iran could, however, come to the aid of their ally in the region to prevent its financial collapse and to secure essential goods in the event of a complete ban against the Gulf country. This decision, aimed at stopping international terrorism, has come in a context of severe political instability, including attacks claimed by ISIS, which have been carried out against the Iranian capital for the first time; meanwhile the Egyptian authorities are seeking to obtain as much as they can from the increase in domestic gas production, planning to stop imports from the country’s traditional suppliers by 2018.