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Qatar GCC blockade: Blessing in disguise?

Qatar GCC blockade: Blessing in disguise?

It has been years now since the Saudi Arabia led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) imposed a blockade on Qatar—another gulf nation—resulting in the closure of the only border the smaller state has with the latter. Even Saudi Arabia once reportedly expressed intentions to dig waterways by this border effectively making Qatar an island. The blockade was initiated because of an alleged claim that Qatar supported terrorist organizations working against GCC countries.

Saudi and its allies including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Mauritius demanded that Qatar fulfill 13 conditions if it wants a thaw with the bloc; these demands included Qatar degrading diplomatic relations with Turkey and the closure of Al Jazeera, a prominent media outlet funded by the gas rich gulf country.

Although the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting held early this month in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was attended by the Prime Minister of Qatar, Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, hopes of thaw between the bloc and Qatar still remain doubtful. Although the international community seems to read much into the participation of the PM at the GCC, the Qatari officials are reserved from draw any conclusions, despite admitting to a small progress being made in the process. In an interview with various media outlets after the summit, the PM did not deny the fact that there is some progress in the reconciliation process but noted that it takes a lot to build trust among the GCC and Qatar having lived through two and half years of complete blockage of land, air or sea communications.

This progress does not seem to impress the Qataris though. While some observers argue that this shows some kind of leniency from the side of the blockading GCC, especially from Saudi Arabia, the Qataris choose to emphasize the positive impacts of the blockade, what is has brought to the country: like strengthening the sense of unity and patriotism, and diminishing the ethnic divisions. They also say that Qatar learned the true meanings of sovereignty and independence.

Before the blockade, Qatar was hugely dependent on imports from Saudi Arabia especially food items like milk. Immediately after the blockade, the Qataris built a diary farm by importing about 5,000 cows; they are now exporting dairy products surpassing self-sufficiency within a year. They are now nurturing their in-house farm that they established with technologies from Israel.

Now the severed relations between the nations has moved from a stalemate and into achieving a small progress in reconciliation; but it is in the view of many observers that the relations among the blockading countries and Qatar won’t return to its pre-blockade status. This, among many, is seen in the refusal of the Qatari Emir Sheik Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani’s to attend the GCC and rather sending the PM led delegation to Riyadh.

Apart from this, the diplomatic and sovereignty issues attached to resolving the crisis both for the bloc and Qatar remain to be some of obstacles for the resolution. Analysts even say that it is less costly to proceed with the crisis than resolve because if Qatar agrees to concede with the demands, it is letting go of its sovereignty, and if the other side drops its demands for the sake of resolving the crisis, they could disgrace themselves when they talk of terrorism or principle based diplomacy.

But, a potential lesson for developing countries, Qatar remained more of resilient to the blockade in a way of building sustainability in its development as well as its principle-based diplomacy. Qatar’s economic growth was not affected by the blockade and the people did not starve because of the stoppage of 90 percent of imports from Saudi Arabis, most of which are food items.

On the other hand, the soft power Qatar has built especially by the proper exploitation of the Qatari funded Al Jazeera Network and its principle based diplomatic relations helped it stand the shocks from the blockade. For instance, while the US - Saudi relations is stronger than all others in the region, and the region’s largest US airbase is located in Qatar, the US was cautious about taking sides.

Apart from this, Qatar’s leaders’ immediate response to the crisis is a big lesson for nations like Ethiopia, even though the type and impact of the anticipated crisis might vary. Since the blockade, Qatar surpassed self sufficiency and it is exporting dairy products and the number of tourists that visited the country has surpassed two million way more than what has been before the blockade in 2017.

The leadership’s commitment to quickly overcome the challenge brought about unexpected success to the country, many analysists and experts agree. It was a sudden event for many Qataris as well as the more than 90 percent of the population expats in the country; but it is almost not sensed except for some that rushed to supermarkets for groceries. The economy absorbed this as well as the 2014-2016 hydrocarbon price decline shocks registering a 2.2 percent growth, up from 1.6 percent in 2017, the IMF lauded.

Despite severing ties with its neighbors, Qatar repeatedly expressed its firm belief in the GCC and proper discussions to resolve whatever problems that might arise from the decision. Hence, a predictable foreign relations and diplomatic policy has helped Qatar overcome the crisis, which is a big lesson for resource rich but poor countries especially in Africa. Despite the crisis, Qatar never meant to cut the gas line extending from Doha to Dubai to light the skyscrapers in the shopping city of the middle east.

The country also gives value to every part of its cultural, historical as well as social entities. One can understand this from what the National Museum of Qatar and the Islamic Museum stand for in Doha.

Built in the vicinity of the former palace for the third Emir of Qatar, Sheik Abdullah bin Jassim al Thani, without destroying the former structure, the National Museum has no straight walls. The design of which inspired by the desert rose, the museum has a collection of archaeological, historical, geographical, paleontological, biological, hydrological as well as sociological and anthropological collections. One would never return without being amazed by the depth of explanations and descriptions given by the guides in the museum, who magnify the messages carried in each and every item put in the museum. One learns what he/she needs to know about the country within an hour of a guided demonstrative tour of the museum.

This is a big lesson for countries like Ethiopia, which has a history of administration as well as commercial relations across the globe. Valuing its resources and exploiting the potential that they carry for the national pride as well as prosperity is what can be learnt from this museum. The value it is given for every item in the museum including a pearl decorated mat and various tubes used in the early stages of the discovery of gas in Qatar displayed in the National Museum of Qatar makes one wonder what and how thrones as well as a palaces of leaders from early African civilizations could help support the development efforts. Africans visiting such countries should bring the lesson that, it takes a vision to build and cement a nation on the sand dunes, not money.

Apart from this, tourism attractions like the Sand Dunes, the beaches and the safari drive within the sand dunes are being marketed to attract many tourists to the country so that this can contribute to the country in multiple sides including economic, social and diplomatic fields.

Qatar has enough money and “they could buy anything they want”, to use the words of one of the first four women members of the Shura Council of Qatar, Hend bint Abd Al Rahman Al Muftah (PhD), but they are working to attract more investment to the country by building free zones. This is aimed at sustaining the country’s economy and the expectation from the whole engagement in the development of infrastructures as well as attraction of investors is geared towards improving the country’s GDP.