Qatar is back. While one could argue that the small, yet ultra-wealthy Emirate, has never really disappeared, it is now clear to the eyes of all that Qatar will emerge stronger from the end of the failed three-and-a-half-year embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.
In 2017, the self-proclaimed Anti-Terror Quartet (comprising of Saudi Arabia, let us not forget) severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, on allegations of terrorism financing and destabilising the region. Led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, 13 demands were established – amongst which the shutting down of Al Jazeera and toning down of bilateral ties with Turkey and Iran.
From one day to the other, hundreds of thousands of Qatari residents, most of which are foreign nationals, were asked to “go back home”. Land, air, and sea borders with Qatar were closed, and the Persian Gulf was changed forever.
From early on, it seemed clear that the blockading countries felt threatened by Doha’s pursue of an independent foreign policy and commitment to pan-Arab media pluralism and broadcast. It is true that the Emirate had been gaining in soft power in recent years. Through the establishment of Al Jazeera, the creation of the Government Communications Office in 2015, the rise of foreign investments through QIA and QSI, and the country’s abundance of natural resources, Qatar had been able to make a name for itself internationally.
The appointment of HE Alya bint Ahmed Al Thani as Qatar’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2013, also stressed Qatar’s commitment to increased gender equality. While not exemplary, human rights in Qatar have been improving importantly throughout the years – most recently, the country has enacted an important labour reform, dismantling the long-established and retrograde kafala system.
In short, while remaining committed to its strong national culture based on Islamic values, Qatar has successfully engaged onto a path of modernisation which, amongst others, has led the country to host the upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup – an opportunity for the Emirate to showcase to the world the exceptional progress the country has undergone over the past decade.
With Gulf countries gradually reopening their borders with Qatar, effectively ending the blockade imposed onto the small but vivid Emirate, Qatar appears stronger than before.
The blockade, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice itself, has indeed led Qatar to mobilise its domestic resources and develop a system of self-sufficiency in food security. In terms of foreign policy, Qatar has stayed committed to pan-Arabism, refusing to normalize its diplomatic ties with Israel – contrary to several GCC states recently.
Throughout the blockade, Qatar has also found unexpected support from other foreign partners – Turkey and Iran to name a few. In terms of military capabilities, Qatar has long been home to US bases, securing a fruitful bilateral relationship regardless of the actions of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In recent years, the small Emirati has also become closer to some European countries, equipping itself with France’s Rafale jets.
All in all, the illegal blockade imposed against Qatar has failed. With the reopening of borders, Qatar will be able to further showcase its strength regionally and internationally. The several upcoming sporting events to be hosted in Doha will be the opportunity to showcase this cross-sector progress, and narrate the success story of an Emirate that only 70 years ago was still considered as a small, isolated, and unexploitable territory.