The Saudi blockade: a blessing for Qatar?
Qatar is an island. At least, it has become one, but not without gradually forging new alliances and trade routes that will influence the balances in the Middle East in the long term. This is how, more than nine months after feeling the wrath of Saudi Arabia, Qatar has now come to circumvent the embargo by setting up and developing links with Iran and Turkey who have opened up their trade routes and airspace. It is in fact the national airline, Qatar Airways – whose ambition it is to become the second biggest air cargo in the world – that has allowed the emirate to laugh off the embargo placed on it by its immensely powerful neighbour. Having nevertheless been forced to cancel multiple flights due to the closing of many Arab countries’ airspace, and having since last June dedicated many of its aircraft to ensuring food supplies reach the emirate, Qatar Airways will soon see large financial losses that will of course require it to be bailed out with public funds.
However, and even if these losses are minimal with regards to the precious independence that has bestowed on Qatar, this shake-up is attracting international businesses who are setting up shop more and more in Doha in order to get round the choice of the Qataris to stay in the country out of solidarity. The requests to grant licences have grown by more than 70% at a time when businessmen and foreign companies are coming to meet their Qatari colleagues, who are no longer able to move freely around Saudi Arabia or the UAE. The geopolitics of the region will inevitably change because of these sanctions from the Saudi bloc that has also had a fortunate collateral effect on Qatar, that being the acceleration of certain reforms that had been vegetating in the government’s filing cabinets. Getting rid of visas for no less than 80 nationalities, granting more business licences, and setting up free trade zones are some of the measures that have emerged from this blockade and that certainly wouldn’t have seen the light of day without it.
In the process of giving a good lesson on resilience to the Arab nation, and after having managed briefly to cope with it all, Qatar has once again demonstrated its unity in the face of its neighbours and of a region paralysed by Saudi power. Once a pebble in the Wahhabist shoe, it now demonstrates a viable alternative and a prosperous model for these Arab nations that wish to free themselves from their Saudi shackles. Concerned with levelling everyone’s heads and imposing its absolute dominance, Saudi Arabia appears to have – unfortunately for it and totally inadvertently – helped draw attention to Qatar, a country that has now fully torn itself away from the Saudis’ clutches.