It all started in May 2017. A news came on the website of Qatar’s official news agency, QNA, saying that Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the country’s monarch had quoted praising Islamist groups Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Soon, the news disappeared from the website and the foreign ministry of Qatar denied that such a kind of speech ever took place. Qatar claimed that the news was fake and manufactured by hackers, however, Saudi Arabia was unconvinced.
Within a short period, comments made by the Qatar emir were highlighted by UAE-owned TV channels such as Al Arabiya and Sky News Arabia. Qatar was also charged with funding extremist groups and of destabilizing the region.
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt and their allies severed their ties with Qatar altogether – they banished Qatari citizens, cut down diplomatic ties, shut down Qatar’s only land border, restricted their airspace, and halted all Qatar-bound traffic and trade. The intention of the move was to break the Qatar economy and compel the nation’s emir to fulfill the demands from the Saudis including adhering to Saudi leadership of the Gulf, shutting down of Al Jazeera and cutting ties with Saudi arch-enemy Iran.
One of the richest countries in the world, Qatar now feels the pain as it greatly depends on its neighbors for trade and travel in and out of the country. It also imports most of its goods via the land border with Saudi Arabia, which is now shut down.
However, Qatar refused to comply with any of the demands made by Saudi and resisted the pressure from Saudi Arabia’s reformist Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and his fight for regional domination.
Doha, Qatar’s capital and the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas, took help from Turkey, which deployed troops to Qatar and by collaborating with Iran, sent food and supplies to the country. In the following months, there were complaints regarding Qatari and UAE jet interceptions, a missing Sheikh, and a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island nation by cutting it down with a maritime canal.
In the first few weeks following the announcement of the blockade, Qatar’s imports fell to about 40% from the same time a year before. At present, those numbers came back to normal as Doha developed new trade routes and helped local companies develop the domestic output of some goods. Moreover, Qatar started developing the world’s largest LNG field that it shares with Iran in the Persian Gulf.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) report says that Qatar’s banking system has returned from initial outflows and the economy is likely to grow 2.6% in 2018 compared to 2.1% in 2017. Even the country’s fiscal deficit is estimated to have reduced to around 6% of GDP in 2017 from 9.2% in 2016.
Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization commended Qatar in its World Report 2018 titled, “Qatar: Year of Crisis Spurred Rights Reforms.” The report credits Qatar for several important human rights reforms during 2017, which if fully exercised, would foster some of the most progressive human rights standards in the Gulf region. The reforms include laws to enhance labor standards for migrant workers, including a domestic workers law, and a draft law granting permanent residency to children born to Qatari mothers and foreign fathers and to some foreign residents living in the nation.