This week Qatar Airways announced it had lost $69million as a result of the Gulf blockade, in place since June last year. It has become increasingly hard to understand why this blockade continues when no country that respects its sovereignty could ever capitulate to the 13 demands made by its neighbours.
The blockading states still expect Qatar to shutdown Al Jazeera, which seems to be the most ludicrous of the demands, no more absurd than those countries expecting Britain to close the BBC. One of the supposed concerns of Qatar’s Gulf neighbours is its normalisation of relations with Iran last year and the subsequent strengthening of relations. But despite a total land, sea and air blockade against Qatar, some of those neighbouring states continue their own trade with Iran, and allow Iranians into their countries.
Exports and re-exports from the United Arab Emirates to Iran totalled $17billion as most of Iran’s products passed through Dubai.
The allegation of Qatar’s neighbours that it is supporting terrorism has even been rubbished by US president Donald Trump himself, who in April called Qatar an ally against terrorism and a great friend. In reality, Qatar is less involved in extremist groups in Syria than it ever was before. So what is all the fuss about if we go beyond the rhetoric?
The real issue may be that Qatar has become too independent in its foreign policy in the eyes of its neighbours and had thrown its support behind the popular uprisings in the Arab world. Al Jazeera has increasingly shone a light on the problematic internal politics of other Arab nations and herein was the most potent reason for the enmity that brought about the blockade.
Instead of becoming the victim, Qatar has capitalised on the opportunities the blockade has presented, portraying itself as the home of free speech and a more open and inclusive society. This is in contrast to its Gulf neighbours, who have allegedly made it illegal for their citizens to even criticise the blockade. Over the past year and a half, Qatar, with its youthful Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has been positioning itself as a supporter of grassroots Arab and Muslim causes, supporting aspirations in the region for political change in the face of autocratic rule.
What no doubt irks the neighbours further is that Qatar has pressed ahead with its vision of becoming “the modern intellectual capital of the Arab world”. It is difficult for the region to accept such a small city-state punching above its weight in this way and continuing to speak freely on political issues that go against what the surrounding monarchies see as acceptable.
At the end of the day, chances are that the Gulf neighbours never intended for this impasse or confrontation with Qatar to be dragged out for such a protracted amount of time. The much-anticipated mediation of the US in a summit touted for early next year may be just the chance to normalise relations once again, and heal the division between nations which historically have enjoyed an immense degree of solidarity. It certainly is in the interest of the Arab world to find unity once again and collectively address its challenges.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.