Anxiety and distress reign amid Gulf crisis with Qatar

A Qatari wears his loyalty clearly with a photo of the Emir, Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, on his shirt. The move last week by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE to cut ties with their fellow Gulf state Qatar has resulted in confusion and consternation
A Qatari wears his loyalty clearly with a photo of the Emir, Sheikh Tamim Hamad Al-Thani, on his shirt. The move last week by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE to cut ties with their fellow Gulf state Qatar has resulted in confusion and consternation among citizens of most Gulf nations.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Families split, jobs lost, education disrupted as regional political tensions come to a boil

DOHA •Ms Jawaher has lived in this tiny nation her whole life. But a political showdown threatens to unravel her world, potentially forcing her to move to a country she hardly knows and splitting her family apart.

Ms Jawaher's mother is a Qatari citizen and her father is Bahraini. That fact has seldom caused problems.

But when several other Arab nations severed ties with Qatar last week, three of them - Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - also ordered their citizens to return home or face stiff penalties. Under the laws of Qatar and other Gulf states, children take the citizenship of their father. That leaves Ms Jawaher and thousands of others like her with a hard decision.

"If we are made to go to Bahrain, what are we going to do there?" said the 21-year-old university student, who spoke on condition that her family name not be revealed. "And we are going to have to leave our mum behind. Our family will be divided."

In a region where cultural and tribal ties extend beyond national borders, the deepening crisis is creating havoc in Qatari families, like Ms Jawaher's, in ways many had never expected.

Parents and spouses travelling abroad are unable to return home. Some have already lost jobs. Children worry about becoming stateless or that their education will be disrupted, and family members in different countries are feuding.

In a region where cultural and tribal ties extend beyond national borders, the deepening crisis is creating havoc in Qatari families... Parents and spouses travelling abroad are unable to return home. Some have already lost jobs. Children worry about becoming stateless or that their education will be disrupted, and family members in different countries are feuding.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE ordered Qatari nationals to leave their territories within 14 days and banned their own citizens from entering Qatar. Citizens living in Qatar were given similar deadlines to return.

More than 11,000 citizens of the three countries live in Qatar, according to Qatar's National Human Rights Committee. And thousands of Qataris live and work in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.

At least 6,500 Qatari nationals are married to citizens from these three nations, according to Qatari government figures. Before the crisis, citizens of the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council - which comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman - could live and travel freely across the member states. They often refer to themselves as "Khaleejis" - the people of the Gulf.

Tensions, however, between Qatar and its neighbours have been simmering for years over accusations of Doha supporting terrorist groups and its ties to Iran's Shi'ite theocracy, the primary rival of Saudi Arabia's Sunni monarchy.

That led to last week's expulsions of diplomats and the closing of ports, airspace and borders to isolate Qatar. The small, energy-rich nation, home to a United States airbase and 10,000 US servicemen, has rejected the allegations as "baseless", saying that it "condemns terrorism in all its forms".

Few in Qatar expected a full- blown crisis, especially as millions in the region prepare to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a time to visit families and friends. "This has made me so sad," said Qatari doctor Wafa al-Yazeedi. "We lived and felt like all the Gulf is one country. I have a cousin everywhere."

In a report last week, the human rights watchdog Amnesty International described the case of a Saudi man living in Qatar who was unable to visit his hospitalised mother in Saudi Arabia because he feared he would not be able to return to his children and Qatari wife. There is a collective sense that they are trapped by the quest for influence and control in the Middle East.

"We have relatives all over the region," said Mr Rashed al-Jalahma, 22, who is also the child of a Qatari-Bahraini union. "We were in shock and awe when we learned we could no longer see them because of politics. What does the population have to do with the problems of the politicians?"

WASHINGTON POST

SEE OPINION

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 15, 2017, with the headline 'Anxiety and distress reign amid Gulf crisis with Qatar'. Print Edition | Subscribe