Weathering the Saudi blockade

Qatar thrives under pressure

The blockade of Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in the summer of 2017 was a shock for the small emirate. Meanwhile, however, it seems to have more than recovered: the economy is growing and the leadership is bursting with determination and self-confidence. Details of Anchal Vohra

"What crisis?" That is the response whomever you speak to in Qatar about the Saudi-led blockade imposed a year and a half ago.

Take Nasir Ali, a Qatari policeman who was picking up locally grown cucumbers in a Doha supermarket. He asked me to follow him to shelves packed with milk bottles and cheese bars produced in an air-conditioned farm 60 kilometres from the city.

"So what if the Saudis and the Emiratis don't let us fly in stuff from their airspace. We will make our own. Look at these," he said, his eyes beaming with pride at the success of the desert country in producing perishable food products. "We have no dearth," he said.

Warehouses full to the brim

Soon after the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain banned trade and travel, aimed at stopping the imports that the country relied on, Qatar sped up its dairy and livestock production, prioritising the country's food security programme. Forced to re-route the imports, it unloaded them within a few months at the newly built $7.4 billion (€6.5 billion) Hamad port.

Qatarʹs new Hamad Port (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Qatar's hub for imports from all over the world: despite the blockade of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, Qatar managed within a few months to divert imports and unload them at the new Hamad port, which the government built for over seven billion U.S. dollars

The shortage, induced mainly by panic shopping, lasted just a few days. Now, Argentine beef, German caviar and Iranian vegetables — among other global goodies — are stocked to the brim.  "We do not want Saudi products and have asked the shops to remove whatever is remaining," said Nasir Ali.

The embargo was meant to teach a lesson to Qatar's emir for supporting the political Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood, seen as a threat by the blockade-imposing quartet. They demanded Qatar stop helping the group and shut down its international news broadcaster Al Jazeera, which it accused of fanning the flames of the Arab Spring.

Qatar didn't capitulate and refused to give in to any of the demands. It has proved to be much more resilient than its neighbours envisaged.

Deep pockets

Powering this resilience is a feeling of being pushed around by Saudi Arabia for far too long, but mostly it is sustained by the state's overflowing coffers. Qatar dipped into its sovereign wealth fund of over $340 billion when the blockade came into place.

The confidence that it will not only survive but carry on building the $200 billion infrastructure projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup also emanated from Qatar's natural gas reserves, the third-largest in the world. The wealth they have generated has catapulted the nation known until the 1970s for pearl-diving into one with the highest per capita income.

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