Oman and Kuwait, neutral states during the Gulf rift, took a more cautious approach to the pandemic throughout Ramadan than Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. They kept mosques closed and declined to loosen curfews to accommodate the holy month. Rather, restrictions increased.

Kuwait’s Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs Ministry innovated by creating a free mobile app, Ramadan in Your Home, to ensure that people remain engaged under the curfew. Oman also continued religious programming across its traditional media outlets.

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A celebration of resilience

At the heart of the Gulf rift is Qatar, whose tensions with its neighbours in many ways boil down to their similarities. Qatar has its own strategy for putting itself on the global map, however, just as it had for Ramadan during the pandemic – one that combined elements of Kuwait and Oman’s approach with those of the other GCC states.

Like Bahrain, Qatar kept its state mosque open for select prayers. Like similar programmes in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar Charity launched a nearly $3 million Ramadan campaign that targeted over 2 million people, both within Qatar and abroad.

 

 
 
But Qatar’s religious soft power was not able to compete with that of its neighbours during Ramadan, especially with the retirement of Sunni reformist theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi due to old age and the receding popularity of Qatar-sponsored Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan amid several rape allegations.
 
Like Kuwait and Oman, Qatar did not use Ramadan as an opportunity to re-open its economy. But it has used the moment to mark the third anniversary of the GCC rift and to celebrate its resilience. Countries on both sides have kept up their war of words, with the Qataris fomenting anti-Saudi sentiment on Al-Jazeera after the death in Saudi custody of imprisoned academic Abdullah al-Hamid while Saudi Arabia organised a disinformation campaign about a coup in Qatar.
 
Crises and spiritual events have long been a platform for the GCC states to advance their interests and public relations campaigns. For some, therefore, the combination of the two during the coronavirus pandemic and Ramadan was a blessing.
 
Bader Al-Saif
 
 
Bader Mousa Al-Saif is a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focuses on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula.
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