Qatar crisis: Gulf states settle in for long haul

People taking in the skyline in Doha. There has been much speculation that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will seek to push Qatar out of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council either through suspension or expulsion.
People taking in the skyline in Doha. There has been much speculation that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will seek to push Qatar out of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council either through suspension or expulsion.PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA • More than a month since the start of the diplomatic crisis gripping the Gulf, hopes of a swift resolution seem as remote as a summer downpour in the desert.

Both sides - the group of Saudi-led allies against Qatar - seem as entrenched in their positions as ever and as unlikely to find a face-saving solution for all since the conflict erupted on June 5.

"I think that this crisis has a way to go still," said Dr Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf analyst with the Baker Institute at the US-based Rice University. He is not alone.

A weary US State Department this week signalled its belief that the row - which has seen Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt sever ties with Qatar over claims that it supports Islamist extremists - will rumble on, at best, for some time.

"We believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks. It could drag on for months," State Department spokesman Heather Nauert said last Thursday.

Qatar yesterday announced it was establishing a committee to pursue compensation claims potentially worth billions of dollars over the country's "blockade" by Gulf states. Attorney-General Ali bin Fetais al-Marri said the Compensation Claims Committee would deal with cases including major companies, such as Qatar Airways, and individuals.

The first days of July had offered a tiny, hopeful glimpse of a resolution as the region awaited Qatar's response to the list of 13 onerous demands placed on Doha by the Saudi-led bloc.

But a defiant Qatar, which denies the charges of supporting extremism, then called the demands - such as closing broadcaster Al Jazeera and the Turkish military base in Doha - "unrealistic".

In return, Saudi and its allies threatened further sanctions, while Qatar hit back, labelling the four Arab states "siege countries".

"There will be no lifting of the sanctions anytime soon, I can't see that happening," said Dr Andreas Krieg of the Defence Studies Department at King's College London.

The crisis seems to be in deadlock.

"It appears that Saudi Arabia and the UAE underestimated Qatar's ability to very quickly bring on board major regional powers such as Turkey and Iran," Dr Christopher Davidson, an expert on Middle East politics at Britain's Durham University, told Agence France-Presse.

"In this context, pushing forward with any form of cross-border intervention seems unlikely, with instead a long-drawn-out slow-bleed of Qatar's economy probably being the preferred Saudi-UAE strategy."

So what happens next?

On the diplomatic front, the push is coming from the West with the visit of British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson to the region this weekend, followed by the scheduled arrival of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Kuwait today.

In Ms Nauert's statement, she also warned the conflict "could possibly even intensify". This could manifest itself in two ways.

On the sanctions front, attention appears to be turning to regional political organisations and, more tentatively, trade. There has been much speculation that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will seek to push Qatar out of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council either through suspension or expulsion.

Reports in the Saudi media have suggested this could be the next step in Qatar's isolation though it is unclear if there would be enough votes to carry this through.

On trade there has been suggestions that Saudi Arabia and the UAE may present international companies with a choice of doing business with them or Qatar, not both.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2017, with the headline 'Qatar crisis: Gulf states settle in for long haul'. Print Edition | Subscribe