The new normal in the Arabian Gulf
June 4, 2018 11:07 PM   Subscribe

Today marks the one year anniversary of nine governments (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and their allies) cutting ties with Qatar.

In the early hours of 24 May 2017, a news story appeared on the website of Qatar's official news agency, QNA, reporting that the country's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, had made an astonishing speech. He was quoted praising Islamist groups Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. And perhaps most controversially of all, Iran, Saudi Arabia's arch-rival. Qatar claimed that the QNA had been hacked. And they said the hack was designed to deliberately spread fake news about the country's leader and its foreign policies. The Qataris specifically blamed UAE, an allegation later repeated by a Washington Post report which cited US intelligence sources.

In response to the news story, Qatar's neighbours acted, and on the 5th June 2017 Qatari citizens were expelled, diplomatic ties suspended, the only land border closed, airspace shutdown for Qatari aircraft and all trade halted. Qatar was now effectively an island.

The Citizens and residents of Qatar (2.7 million people in total) quickly moved behind the Emir in a show of support. A drawing of the emir by Ahmed al-Maadheed became the symbol of the country's support, and quickly adorned cars and buildings across Doha. Supplies of food were quickly airlifted from Turkey, Iran, kuwait and India, and new shipping routes established direct to the new Hamad Port, or via ports in Oman.

Within Qatar food security was given increased support with Baladna Farm rapidly increasing the size of their dairy farm from a small facility to 10,000 cows in a matter of months, with the first batches arriving by air.

Qatar is the host of the 2022 World Cup, and despite the year long isolation by their neighbours, appears to be on track to deliver the stadiums well in advance of the tournament.

There may be light at the end of the tunnel with Donald Trump demanding an end to the blockade, however a new normal has developed in the Middle East.
posted by Fezzer (12 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd really be interested in understanding more about this. I'd heard recently that this was in response to Qatar getting the World Cup, with the hack providing the smokescreen of non-petty reasons to be pissed at Qatar, but I don't understand the region enough to know how much weight to give to that.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:02 AM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think Deadspin said it most succinctly:
Qatar’s World Cup Expected To Take More Lives Than 9/11
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:03 AM on June 5, 2018 [8 favorites]

Regarding the working conditions, you can't avoid the temperatures reached across the middle east in the summer (including the blockading countries). It's worth noting that Qatar has gone out of its way to address working conditions for the World Cup. The Building and Woodworkers global trade union have been given access across the projects: “The work we’ve conducted with the SC has been an excellent starting point. The cooperative and constructive partnership in place has improved the conditions of workers across World Cup projects, which would not have been possible without the willingness shown by the SC and in particular the Secretary General, to engage us in constructive dialogue." It's worth noting that the organization preparing for the world cup publishes information on their website regarding worker welfare and accidents. These do not reflect the claims of "numerous deaths" as alleged by some news organizations. The Washington post famously published a graphic highlighting the issue, however this was retracted upon further investigation.
posted by Fezzer at 6:07 AM on June 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

In response to that deadspin article from 2014, here's an update from the International Trade Union Confederation
posted by Fezzer at 6:11 AM on June 5, 2018

Yeah I don’t necessarily see the on-schedule completion of the stadiums as a symbol of Qatari resilience or whatever.

I’m surprised that this post doesn’t include a link to the New Yorker’s profile of Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who (IIRC?) is posited to be the architect of the Qatari blockade, amongst a bunch of other things. Especially given how it relates to the coldish-but-getting-pretty-warm war with Iran.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:18 AM on June 5, 2018 [3 favorites]

Football is a side issue here.
Al Jazeera: The Gulf crisis one year on: What next for Qatar?
There is a silver lining to the Gulf crisis that Qatar should seek to exploit.
Times of Israel: Iran and Turkey help wealthy Qatar thrive, 1 year into blockade.
Fair Observer: Natural Gas: The Driver of Saudi Hostility Toward Iran and Qatar.
Perhaps of more interest is this BBC report: A year-long political conflict between the tiny, wealthy state of Qatar and its larger neighbours - including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - has been fought with a new arsenal of weapons: bots, fake news and hacking.
All in all David seems to have defeated Goliath - Foreign Policy: - A Saudi-led coalition wanted to permanently ostracize its rival. One year later, Qatar has more influence in the West than ever.
posted by adamvasco at 6:39 AM on June 5, 2018 [9 favorites]

Yeah, who knows what's going on. I assumed MBS was taking advantage of directionless American policy to try to shore up control at home and in the rest of the region. It feels like this was a massive mistake -- as pointed out a year ago, the United States stations a bunch of troops and has a lot of interest in the stability of Qatar. Getting some idiot in the White House to endorse this nonsense was never going to be the end of it. If Saudi had been quieter about trying to bully Qatar, they might have succeeded in alienating them somewhat from Iran. Instead, they...did the opposite.

(The Qatar World Cup thing was always FIFA corruption nonsense, but I feel like European newspapers and football team owners are the only ones bothered by it. Everyone knew it wasn't feasible to run a soccer tournament in a place with 130 deg F temperatures...even the Brazil games included an extra rest period for humid 85 deg F days. Qatar is so unsuited for a soccer tournament that they eventually decided to move the tournament to winter.)
posted by grandiloquiet at 10:15 AM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't think I've seen anyone say it outright, but I do get the sense from snippets here and there that the UAE is a major motivating force behind a lot of Saudi Arabia's big moves, possibly as much or more than MBS or other big Saudi players. They've worked out a pretty nice position for themselves where they can harass disfavored neighbors however much they want and push all kinds of boundaries because they know that the Saudis will back them up 100% and, if anything, go even harder on Yemen/Qatar/whoever.
posted by Copronymus at 10:49 AM on June 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

From the section on construction workers on the human rights watch website:

In 2013, health authorities reported 520 deaths of workers of whom 385, or 74 percent, died from unexplained causes. Qatari public health officials have not responded to requests for information about the overall number and causes of deaths of migrant workers since 2012.
posted by 1head2arms2legs at 5:25 AM on June 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I went through the Doha airport twice last month. It is huge, and quite lovely... and it was like a ghost town. The Qatar Airways flights were relatively full, but the airport was clearly designed to handle far more traffic than what it was experiencing.

Security was also intense--the screening at the gate, above and beyond the normal transit-passenger security check, was very intense. Comparable to the time I went through Heathrow shortly after the London bombings.

For all I know, this is normal, since it was my first time passing through the country. But I suspected it was a result of the current situation in the Middle East.
posted by Superplin at 7:36 AM on June 6, 2018

Can you really tell this story without mentioning Jared?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:06 AM on June 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Basically Qatar wasn’t prepared to join the Saudi-led anti-Iran alliance (because they have a much closer economic relationship with Iran than these other countries), so it had to be punished.
posted by moorooka at 11:37 PM on June 7, 2018

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