In an attempt to make up for the numbers, Qatar has stretched the national service programme from three to 12 months and allowed women to enlist on a volunteer basis. "For the first time, our women will join the army," said Emadi.

Qatar's real defence comes from the presence of the al-Udeid Air Base on its soil. It is the largest U.S. military facility in the region. The Qataris had real cause for concern when President Donald Trump backed Saudi Arabia and took an anti-Qatar stand in the beginning of the blockade. Qatar got busy lobbying for its cause in Washington and as a sweetener offered to expand the air base to provide space for the families of 10,000 American soldiers based there.

The tensions have not escalated since June 2017, but the distance between the neighbours has grown. In November Qatar announced it was quitting OPEC. While it said the reason was because it is the smallest contributor to the cartel and would rather focus on gas production, it was seen as a rebuke of an organisation believed to be under the control of the Saudis.

Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (photo: Getty Images)
In the ongoing crisis in the Gulf, the Emir of Qatar recently called on Saudi Arabia and its allies to end Qatar's boycott and work together to resolve the conflict. The differences could be bridged through dialogue, said Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. But this would require an end to Qatar's boycott and the other countries to stop interfering in internal affairs

Blockade to remain

In a further snub, the emir did not attend the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) Summit in Riyadh, sending a junior minister instead. Local news reports suggested that Qatar did not see the Saudis to be serious about discussing peace at the summit and hence did not find merit in appeasing them by the emir's presence.

Noha Aboueldahab, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, said that the blockade has changed the relationship between the Gulf nations, perhaps forever. "Unless there is a fundamental change in the regimes or leaderships of any of those countries," she said. "It will be a long time before we see a genuine rapprochement between Qatar and the blockading states." 

Qatar finds vindication in the plummeting reputation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has been criticised for the rising death toll in the war in Yemen, the incarceration of women's rights activists at home and the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

At the supermarket, Nasir Ali said, "They accused us of backing terrorists. What about Khashoggi?" Flailing his arms for emphasis, he added, "Who killed Khashoggi? Saudis kill their own people. We love our emir."

Anchal Vohra

© Deutsche Welle 2019

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