The Gulf Divided: The Impact of the Qatar Crisis

Source: Chatham House

Author(s): Jane Kinninmont

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By early 2019 the rupture within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)1 stemming from the boycott of Qatar by four Arab states appeared to be well entrenched as a new feature of Middle East politics. The crisis erupted in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain – joined by Egypt – severed diplomatic, trade and transport links with Qatar, withdrew their nationals, and pulled out their investments. Qatar accused this Arab ‘Quartet’ of trying to create a run on its currency, and there has subsequently been speculation that a military confrontation was only narrowly avoided.

Qatar has been able to withstand the pressure of the boycott because of its extensive economic resources and its political alliances beyond the Gulf region. As the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), it has benefited from moves by many Western and Asian countries to switch their energy sources from oil to LNG. It has used gas contracts and sovereign wealth investments to consolidate relationships with many countries around the world, and it hosts the main US airbase in the Middle East. Doha’s alliance with Turkey has deepened since the crisis began; it has strengthened its relations with Iran, too. Its links with Turkey and Iran were among the features of its foreign policy that the Quartet objected to, but by cutting off Qatar’s trade routes through Saudi Arabia the Quartet’s boycott has only pushed Qatar closer to these other players.

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