By Arab News
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed*
Victims of Doha’s detrimental foreign policy, Qataris are forgotten amid the diplomatic row engulfing the region. For years Qatar harmed its neighbors by harboring and supporting extremist groups, so Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off ties with it, closing its only land border.
Comfortable in the leverage provided by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) membership and a US military air base, Qatar systematically targeted regional countries. But the rules of the game have changed, especially now that strategic and powerful regional players have come together for a boycott. Borrowing from the rhetoric of Hamas and the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Doha has repeatedly said the sanctions target Qataris.
Sensing the danger in its hostile policy for the first time, Doha now understands the stakes. It relentlessly worked to dismantle Arab societies by promoting and supporting extremist ideology and funding armed factions.
As such, extremist groups and terrorists — such as Al-Qaeda’s Saudi cleric Abdullah Al-Muhaysini, and Kuwait’s ultra-hard-line Al-Qaeda fundraiser Hamid bin Abdallah Al-Ali — have rushed to defend Qatar on social media.
Most extremist figures recently blacklisted by the US and Arab countries are either based in Qatar or are supported by its government. Four Arab countries named 59 people, including Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousef Qaradawi, and 12 entities, among them the Qatar Charity and Eid Charity.
In a region ravaged by chaos and instability, Qatar has somehow managed to enjoy relative tranquility, save for an assassination and a bombing in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was killed when a bomb ripped through his SUV in Doha. Authorities arrested Russian officials believed to be involved in the assassination, sentencing them to life in prison. But after Russian threats, Doha released them after only a few days behind bars. They were given a red-carpet welcome in Moscow. In 2005, a suicide bombing targeted a British school in Doha, killing at least 13 people.
Qatari policy has been unbearably destructive to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda offshoots that Saudi Arabia fought against for years were given a platform by Qatar’s state-funded media to call for attacks against the Kingdom. Riyadh, Cairo and Tunisia are among the capitals that suffered the spilling of innocent blood, to which they responded with diplomatic protests only.
Faced by legal punitive measures, Qatar will capitulate. But it will most likely use cunning politics and ploys to weasel its way out of commitments, as it always does. Sounding more like a joke than a serious cry for help, Doha labels the multilateral initiative to reverse its destabilizing regional policies an “oppressive siege.”
Qatar is by no means under a ruthless blockade. Its airspace and sea corridors remain largely open, and it enjoys massive resources and a small population. It can import its needs from Europe’s and Australia’s most luxurious markets, and have them delivered to Doha via its giant air fleet. Trying to reproduce the underprivileged scenario found in Gaza, in the hope of manufacturing Arab and global sympathy, does not fit Qatar’s prosperous image.
It is being boycotted, not besieged. All that Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have done is prevent Qatar from using their land, air and sea corridors; these are sovereign acts backed by international law. The ban is civilized compared to Doha’s rogue policy of destabilizing neighboring states, for which a price must be paid. Qatari carriers will pay that price by traveling longer hours after losing access to Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati airspace.
Qatar Airways lost a monthly 1,200 flights — around 250,000 passengers — with Saudi Arabia alone, while Saudi airlines lost only 120 flights per month. This is the high price Doha has to pay over the dispute — it may not care for its financial losses as much as it is bothered by its top air carrier losing its international reputation.
Although the boycott affects Qatar financially, morally and politically, it is not a blockade so long as its ships and aircraft are able to travel and trade with the world. A siege would cut all corridors. Doha should consider reconciliation before pressure increases and more countries join the ban.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.