“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy,” said the mastermind of Western ideology back in the day, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.
This statement is currently very relevant to Qatar’s policy towards Saudi Arabia, as Qatar has not only stood up to the Saudis and their inhumane embargo, but it has also been busily and successfully building a new life from a new beginning. Here are just a few striking examples.
According to the Anadolu Agency, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani made an unannounced visit to Saudi Arabia for the first time. Diplomats are quiet naturally very fond of keeping things under wraps until they have achieved some success. This was a visit to an enemy country, whose king even wanted to occupy the small emirate of Qatar at one stage. But according to the Wall Street Journal which has well informed and confidential sources in Riyadh, the purpose of the secret visit was to discuss ways to reduce the tensions between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, a rift which has lasted for two and a half years. The Qatari Foreign Minister allegedly told the Saudi authorities that Doha is prepared to sever ties with the illegal terrorist Muslim Brotherhood organization for the sake of improving their bilateral relations, a move which has been welcomed by Saudi officials. The same Wall Street Journal stated that Qatar’s move is a successful diplomatic breakthrough in the difficult situation that has developed between the two countries, for which Saudi Arabia is to blame.
The Saudi football team landing in Doha to participate in the Gulf Cup after accepting an invitation from the Qatari side can also be viewed as somewhat of a historical event in the timeline of efforts being made to repair relations. By the same token, the Saudis have also given teams from the UAE and Bahrain permission to fly to Doha and compete in this football competition. Countries such as Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and Yemen, which do not kowtow to the Saudis, had confirmed they would be participating even earlier. As a result, all the Arab states of the Persian Gulf are arriving in Qatar for the Gulf Cup, which marks another victory for the Qataris. A short while earlier, Saudi Ambassador to Kuwait Prince Sultan bin Saad Al Saud had to admit that “sports might repair what politics has ruined.” Truth be told, the football matches are not the headline event at this championship — it is Saudi Arabia’s participation in and of itself, which has been boycotting Qatar since June 2017.
Two and a half years ago, Riyadh made the following demands to Doha: break off diplomatic relations with Iran, stop subversive activities in other countries and silence the criticism coming from the al-Jazeera broadcaster by closing it. Not only did Qatar refuse to fulfill these demands, it has managed to break the economic blockade with the help of friendly countries, primarily Turkey and Iran, and quickly managed to set up a number of enterprises to produce industrial and food products that it had imported before being sanctioned. All the while, the United States has been keeping a close eye on events in the region, trying to guess in which way the situation is about to turn. Donald Trump’s feigned efforts, supposedly aimed at helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar achieve reconciliation, have been predictably unsuccessful. But his announcement that the US is pulling out of the Middle East has had a dramatic impact on the royal regime, forcing the Saudis to rethink their old strategy with its exclusive focus on Washington. After all, it is fairly obvious that if Donald Trump is not re-elected and a Democratic president enters the White House, Saudi Arabia may find itself caught in the middle of two hostile American forces: Congress and the US federal executive departments. In light of all of these developments, an article in the Egyptian newspaper “Al-Ahram” wrote that the Persian Gulf, once dominated by Saudi Arabia, is now beginning to look like a piece of Swiss cheese. Oman and Kuwait did not have the slightest involvement in blockading Qatar, while the UAE, a Saudi ally and former strategic partner, decided to abandon the war in Yemen, in order to restore its relations with Iran and Qatar.
An important achievement for Qatar to strengthen its international and economic relations was a successful visit from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who joined the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to preside over the 5th session of the Qatar-Turkey Supreme Strategic Committee (SSC). A joint final statement was signed during the meeting, affirming the commitment both parties have made to strengthening the legal framework of their bilateral relations. They also expressed their satisfaction with the growth in bilateral trade, which reflects the strength of their political ties. The SSC welcomed the growing interest among Qatari companies’ in investing in Turkey, and reviewed the commitment Qatar has made to invest $15 billion in Turkey. The SSC also expressed satisfaction with the greater level of cooperation in projects related to hosting the FIFA World Cup finals in 2022. The two sides expressed their willingness to increase cooperation in defense industries in the long-term, and discussed the importance of greater cooperation in the field of food security.
Qatar and Turkey held in-depth talks on international issues, stressing the importance of coordinating their positions and further strengthening their partnership in light of ongoing regional developments. The two sides reaffirmed their common commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the Middle East and neighboring regions, as well as finding peaceful resolutions to disputes, without resorting to threats of force or sanctions.
Bilateral relations between Qatar and Turkey have “reflected positively” on bilateral trade, which grew by 78.8% and reached QR 8.7 billion in 2018 compared with QR 4.8 billion in 2017, said Qatari Minister of Commerce and Industry Ali bin Ahmed al-Kuwari. In his speech, the Qatari Minister noted: “During the same period, Qatari exports to Turkey grew by 99%, while Qatari imports from Turkey increased by 64.9%.” Turing to investment, the Minister “praised” Turkish companies for contributing to the Qatari economy, noting that some 499 Qatari-Turkish joint companies are currently operating in trade, contracting and information technology sectors, while 37 wholly-owned Turkish companies are operating in the construction and industrial sectors. Reflecting on all of these positive facts, an article in the Qatari newspaper “Gulf Times” confidently states: “Qatar [and] Turkey stand shoulder to shoulder on bilateral [and] regional issues.”
In the face of sanctions, Qatar kept a cool head and was quick to come up with a comprehensive strategy to diversify its sources of revenue by supporting vital sectors of the economy and investors, implementing a system of programs and policies aimed at opening up the country’s economy in accordance with the monarchy’s economic plans to attract companies and direct foreign direct investment in priority sectors. This has involved making key amendments to the rules for conducting business in the country, with new legislation allowing foreign investors to own up to 100% of businesses in all economic sectors, commercial and real estate activities.
Alongside this, Qatar is seeking to open up its economy to the world by upgrading its infrastructure to meet the needs of companies, and by increasing trade with various partners around the world. Qatar Airways is helping the country achieve these goals, which operates a fleet of more than 230 aircraft and flies to more than 160 destinations around the world via its hub, Hamad International Airport. Once the work to expand the airport is complete, it will soon have a capacity of 50 million passengers per year.
This is a firm and confident step for the small monarchy, surrounded by the emerald waves of the Persian Gulf, so impressive that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hurried to Doha for a visit, where he held in-dept talks on the situation in the Arab world with Qatar’s Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah. US State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said the topics for discussion centered on the situation around Iran, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Interestingly, Pompeo thanked his Qatari counterpart after the talks for continuing to cooperate closely on a number of issues.
In this regard, it is worth recalling that when Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani met with President Donald Trump twice during his last visit to the United States, Trump was literally gushing with compliments for his guest. It was clear from his words that Washington now sees an ideal partner in Doha, and a role model for America’s other Middle Eastern allies. Donald Trump has made a particular point of repeatedly thanking Qatar for the work the country has put in to expand the US Al Udeid Air Base, located in Qatar. One of Donald Trump’s main ideas is to get America’s Middle Eastern allies to support US military operations in the Middle East. This is in the context of Syria and the latest US plans to establish a maritime coalition in the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab Strait to ensure freedom of navigation off the Iranian and Yemeni coasts. However, it is unlikely that Qatar will partner with the United States on this project, given the cooperation between Doha and Tehran.
In any case, thanks to the coordinated work of the Qatari Emir, government and people, Qataris are feeling confident about the future, and they will be looking forward to celebrating Qatar National Day in December. Russians and many other friends of Qatar wish the Qataris all the best — prosperity, happiness and success — so that they can move forward unimpeded and develop independently.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”