MIDDLE EAST

Would Qatar’s bet on a draw succeed?

Forty days after the outbreak of the Gulf crisis, the positions of Qatar and its rivals (Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) seem to be congealed. No camp has won a peremptory victory over the other. In other words, at this point, the arm wrestling is still ongoing.

After the shock of the rupture of diplomatic relations and the imposition of a land and air embargo which resulted in some panic in the supermarkets at the beginning of the crisis, Qatar did not lose its cool. To resist external pressure, Doha used the basic principle of judo: when one is weaker than his opponent, the only possible strategy is to use the power of the opposing player and turn it against him.

This is what Qatar has done so far with some success. First, Sheikh Tamim held still until the storm is over and remained silent, no doubt on the advice of the Emir of Kuwait. Furthermore, he did not utter a word publicly that could have aggravated the crisis. In fact, he let his foreign affairs and defense ministers defend the position of Qatar diplomatically and in media.

The outcome of the crisis lies in its duration and overtime. For the moment, Qatar wants to counter the blows by mobilizing its financial resources and its allies like Ankara or Tehran. But in the medium term, the pressure will only grow.

Christian Chesnot

At the economic level, Qatari leaders have urgently set up branches to circumvent the embargo of its neighbors, importing products and materials via Oman, Iran or Turkey. In fact, Qatar imported 4,000 dairy cows from the United States, Germany and Australia to compensate for the closure of the land border with Saudi Arabia.

In the end, Doha felt strong enough to reject the 13 requests made by its neighbors which resulted in a new wave of diplomatic channels, the latest of which came from the Quai d’Orsay embodied in French diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian who met all the protagonists. Seen from Paris, one feels that the crisis is now in a total impasse, and that it is now necessary to build a road map to find a way out.

Even though Qatar has been able to come out of this situation with a tie for the moment, the game is not over yet. For Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the roots of the crisis are both old and serious. It is therefore likely that neither Riyadh nor Abu Dhabi will be satisfied with this result. Economic and diplomatic pressures will therefore intensify in the coming weeks.

The outcome of the crisis lies in its duration and overtime. For the moment, Qatar wants to counter the blows by mobilizing its financial resources and its allies like Ankara or Tehran. But in the medium term, the pressure will only grow. The Qatari economy has been conceived as a regional and global hub and will therefore be affected in one way or another in the future; even if the blockade is not total (both the port and the Doha airport operate normally).

Already for investors there is the question of visibility. In the business world, uncertainty is absolutely horrifying! However, the crisis has just revealed a big question mark on the future of Qatar. What will be the state of the country in 1, 3 or 5 years? As a Qatari businessman recently pointed out, “the Emirate cannot remain isolate forever from its nearest neighbors in a climate of permanent hostility.” Meanwhile, Doha is relying on time to take advantage.

_____________________

Christian Chesnot is grand reporter at Radio France in Paris in charge of the Middle East affairs. He has been based as correspondent in Cairo and Amman. He has written several books on Palestine, Iraq, Syria and the Gulf. Chesnot tweets @cchesnot.

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Last Update: Monday, 17 July 2017 KSA 19:29 - GMT 16:29
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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