Two years after four Arab countries started a blockade of Qatar, there remains little sign the political crisis – the worst in the Gulf region for years – is moving any closer towards a resolution.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, shortly after US President Donald Trump met several Arab and Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia.
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The quartet has accused Doha of supporting “terrorism” and “destabilising the region”, two charges Qatar has fiercely denied.
A list of 13 demands – including shutting down Al Jazeera Media Network, downgrading diplomatic relations with Iran, and closing a Turkish military base currently under construction in Qatar – was presented by the blockading countries and firmly rejected by Doha.
Summits highlight polarisation
Despite Qatar sending a high-ranking official to attend meetings held in Saudi Arabia – for the first time since the crisis began – the political standoff continues as the outcome of the gathering dispelled any sign of thawing relations.
Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani attended the three emergency summits called for by Saudi Arabia in the holy city of Mecca at the end of last month, where he shook hands with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The summits, which included separate meetings of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, came following recent attacks on oil assets, including two Saudi oil tankers off the UAE’s coast.
After communiques were made at the end of the gathering, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani highlighted the polarisation in the Gulf by expressing his reservations about the hardline statements issued against Iran.
“The statements condemned Iran but did not refer to a moderate policy to speak with Tehran,” Sheikh Mohammed told Al Jazeera.
In separate comments to the UK-based Al-Araby broadcaster, the foreign minister said the meetings’ final communique was made without Qatar’s input or consultation.
He also questioned the “unity” called for by neighbouring nations amid the two-year blockade.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE were quick to respond, criticising Qatar for raising concerns.
“Countries … during summits announce their positions and reservations in the meetings according to customs and not after the meetings,” Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said on Twitter.
His Emirati counterpart, Anwar Gargash, also criticised Doha for being “weak” under pressure.
“Seems to me that attendance and agreement in meetings and then backtracking on what was decided on is [a result of] pressure on the weak that lack sovereignty or have ill intentions or lack credibility, and it might be all these factors,” he tweeted.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Qatar’s economy has proven resilient to the blockade and lower oil prices.
“Economic performance improved in 2018,” the IMF said in a statement on Monday. “Qatar’s economy has successfully absorbed the shocks from the 2014-16 drop in hydrocarbon prices and the 2017 diplomatic rift.”
“Real GDP growth is estimated at 2.2 percent, up from 1.6 percent in 2017,” it added.
The IMF declared Qatar’s banking sector healthy but reported a cooling in the property market.
“After a period of rapid growth, real estate prices in Qatar are adjusting to new levels. According to the real estate price index developed by Qatar Central Bank, following an 82 percent increase during 2012-16, real estate prices fell by 15 percent during 2017-18,” it said.
The report concluded “substantial buffers and prudent policies” would help Doha manage any “rising trade and geopolitical tensions”.