How Qatar has survived a year of blockade of its Gulf neighbors

How Qatar has survived a year of blockade of its Gulf neighbors

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The boycott has provoked a wave of support for the young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Although things did not look good a year ago, today Qataris say they are “stronger”.

In what at first seemed like a fight between David and Goliath, on June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt announced a boycott against Qatar, accusing the small Gulf country of creating instability in the region supporting terrorist groups.

Shortly thereafter, Yemen, Libya and the Maldives joined the measure.

These countries issued a list of demands with 13 points, which included the interruption of links with “terrorist organizations”, the withdrawal of Iran and the closure of the TV channel Al Jazeera .

Qatar rejected the accusations, calling them an attack on their sovereignty and a punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy.

The small and desert state, with an area of just 11,000 km2, depends on importsto cover the basic needs of its 2.7 million inhabitants.

The blockade by air, sea and land made people fear that in Qatar there would be a shortage of basic products, such as food.

A year later, neither Al Jazeera has stopped operating, nor Qatar was isolated. Although in the first moments its economy was affected, this small emirate has used its enormous wealth to find ways to avoid it.

Men walking in Doha.
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption The Qataris have overcome the blockade imposed a year ago by their neighbors.

The money of natural gas

Qatar was one of the poorest Gulf countries until in 1939 large hydrocarbon reserves were found in its territory.

That wealth began to be exploited towards the end of World War II.

Qatar is the second largest natural gas exporter in the world after Russia. In addition, it is the eighth net exporter of oil on the planet.

In response to the blockade of its neighbors, oil company Qatar Petroleum announced last July that it would increase its production of natural gas by 33%, from 77 to 100 million tons per year.

From these exports it obtains an enormous wealth that has helped it to guarantee the prosperity of its population and to invest in infrastructure that allows it to overcome the blockade.

In spite of everything, the Qatari economy did feel the blow in the first months.

The Qatari trade, tourism and banking sectors were affected by the restrictions implemented by their neighboring countries.

The rating agency Moody’s estimated that around US $ 30,000 million escaped the Qatar banking system.

The agency said that the central bank and public funds had to inject US $ 38,500 million to support the national economy.

Food safety

Nearly 40% of the food imported by Qatar entered by land through its only land border with Saudi Arabia.

Due to this, food security has become a priority for Qatar since the blockade of its Arab neighbors.

A year ago, Qatar had no cows and depended on imported milk from its neighbor. Now, although it is hard to believe for a small desert country, cows are becoming a new national symbol.

The Baladna farm has 10,000 head of cattle , which covers a high percentage of dairy needs in the country.

Baladna farm.
Image caption The Baladna farm has 10,000 head of cattle.

Most were brought from the United States on Qatar Airways planes , just one month after the Gulf crisis began.

“Everyone told us we could not do it and we did it,” Peter Weltevreden, who runs the farm, told the BBC.

“Our promise was that one year after the blockade we would be self-sufficient in the supply of fresh milk.”

To survive in the harsh conditions of the Qatari climate, the farm has an air conditioning system and water sprays, and the cows are milked on a rotating machine.

The new port

Last September Qatar inaugurated the new port of Hamad , one of the largest in the region and vital to help the local economy to overcome the blockade of its neighbors.

Worker in the port of Hamad.
Copyright of the EPA image
Image caption Hamad’s new port has been fundamental in overcoming the blockade.

With a cost of US $ 7,000 million , this port is still key to keeping the construction sector on track.

It serves as a point of arrival for materials for the construction of the stadiums of the 2022 World Cup , such as cement and steel, which previously reached the port of Dubai and then by land across the border with Saudi Arabia.

Approach with Iran

The main reason for the action against Qatar, according to analysts, was its good relationship with Saudi Arabia’s great rival in the region: Iran.

Qatar jointly exploits with Iran the largest natural gas field in the world .

Iranian flag in an oil camp in the Gulf.
Copyright of the REUTERS image
Image caption Qatar jointly exploits with Iran the largest natural gas field in the world.

The blockade brought both countries closer.

The trade relationship has intensified between Doha and Tehran and tons of food leave from Iranian ports and airports to Qatar.

In addition, Qatar Airways aircraft use Iranian airspace to overcome the blockade of their neighbors.

“Iran is our neighbor, we have to cooperate and communicate with them,” the Qatari foreign minister told the BBC.

We have differences with them about politics in the region, but we can not resolve them with confrontation. “

Patriotic fervor

In the Doha market, Souq Waqif, the Qataris await the end of the blockade, which has also separated them from family and friends in other parts of the region.

“The Gulf States are all connected through marriages,” says a man whose wife, a Saudi, has not been able to visit her mother in Riyadh.

“It is painful to be separated from our families.”

Qatari in the Doha market.
Image caption The Qataris believe that they live better today.

However, there is also a challenge and a renewed sense of patriotism .

Children in the market carry helium balloons with images of the young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

His face appears on stickers, mugs, t-shirts and skyscrapers in Doha Bay.

“A year later, Qatar and its people are stronger,” Al-Thani said in a statement on Tuesday to mark the anniversary of the blockade.

“There were many statements about the isolation of Qatar, but the reality proves otherwise, while the country emerges as an international partner that can be trusted.”

Qatar
Copyright of the GETTY IMAGES image
Image caption About 40% of the food that Qatar imported entered by land through its only land border with Saudi Arabia.

At 84 years old, Qatari Saad Al-Jassim remembers the times when his nation was not rich. It says that Qatar must remain firm.

“We are now much, much better than before, what we were going to buy (from others) now we are doing here,” he adds.

“It’s my country, I love it and I know it’s a hundred times better than the others.”

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