On June 5, 2017, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut off diplomatic ties with the state of Qatar.
Accusing it of funding “terrorism” and fermenting regional instability, all land, air and sea links to the country were severed.
National carriers declared they would be suspending flights to and from Qatar the following day, and those from Qatar were banned from even transiting through their countries.
It will never be the same. The sense of shock and betrayal following this blockade is something that will be very difficult to erase.
With the exception of Egypt, the blockading states recalled their own citizens and gave the Qataris residing and working in their countries 14 days to leave their territories.
The bloc of four also closed their airspace to Qatari aircraft, leaving only a small corridor, funnelling all their planes in and out of the Gulf.
At 1:30pm Qatar’s only land border was closed and Saudi Arabia stopped all movement of vehicles from its side. Trucks carrying food, raw materials, equipment and medicines could no longer cross into Qatar. All vessels destined to, or carrying the flag of Qatar would not be allowed to call at ports in the UAE.
In less than 24 hours, Qatar was effectively cut off.
The coordinated move by the four countries has caused the greatest rift in years, between some of the most powerful Arab states. And the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was unable to de-escalate the situation.
“The GCC was never intended to deal with an act of aggression between one of the constituent GCC members. This is unprecedented in the extent of it, the scope of it, how it took everybody by surprise,” says Rory Miller, professor of government at Georgetown University in Qatar.
However, he says, in recent history, there were many signs that Qatar was being targeted.
“This current crisis is not an isolated incident. From 1995 up to the present day the dominant team in relations between Saudi Arabia the UAE and Qatar has been one where Saudi Arabia and the UAE has viewed Qatar as definitely the subordinate actor and the Qataris have refused to accept this position,” says Miller.
“You have a track record of the Gulf members of the current embargoing coalition breaking with Qatar over political issues, over security issues over the last 15 years.”
‘It will never be the same’
In June 2017, the tiny desert country was highly reliant on produce from its neighbouring countries, and with those imports blocked, Qatar needed new suppliers. Iran declared that food shipments could be in Doha in 12 hours. Turkey also offered to help however it could.
To maintain stability, the wealthy Gulf state was required to open its coffers, injecting almost $40bn into its economy in the first two months of the crisis.
The blockade triggered Qatar to rethink its sustainability and independence and to set itself up for the future.
It built farms and was transforming its deserts into fertile land. A dairy farm was set up, flying in thousands of cows and producing its own line of products.
Just days before the one-year anniversary of the blockade, Qatar’s government issued a directive banning all products from the blockading quartet.
This is an irrational, erratic crisis, it started for no reason, and in my opinion, it will end like this. The longer it continues, the more damage it will do to everybody.
The new trade links and self-reliance it had developed over the past year meant Qatar’s decades-long dependence on its neighbours for produce and goods had been swept away.
Ignoring the calls for the blockade to end, there has been no softening of the position from the blockading nations.
“This is an irrational, erratic crisis, it started for no reason, and in my opinion, it will end like this. The longer it continues, the more damage it will do to everybody. It seems they have chosen the wrong country because Qatar has built its own resilience and has shown that it cannot and will not be bullied by their neighbours,” says Abdullah Baabood, University of Cambridge research associate.
With neither side willing to back down, the future of the GCC is at stake.
“It will never be the same. The sense of shock and betrayal following this blockade is something that will be very difficult to erase,” says Noha Aboueldahab, a visiting fellow at Brookings Center in Doha.
And while there has been no clear victor, the ambitions of the blockading quartet to change Qatar’s foreign and domestic policies have failed.
“Their failure to get Qatar to concede or make considerate concessions, their failure to get European, Muslim, Asian and Middle Eastern actors to side with them over Qatar has actually highlighted the limitations of the Saudi-UAE axis as a dominant strategic player in the region,” says Miller.
“So I think the best case scenario for a resolution to this conflict is a public agreement to continue to disagree privately.”