The Little Thaw

Did you ever wish for something so hard that by the time it looked likely to come true, you weren’t so sure if you still wanted it or not?

Two and half years ago when Saudi Arabia, my old home place, the UAE and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar, accusing us of funding terrorism, we honestly thought it was the end of the world. The end of Qatar and the world at least, as Saudi Arabia sealed off the 41-mile land border with Qatar, Qatar’s only land link to the rest of the world. Wouldn’t have been so bad if they hadn’t also locked sea and air space around Qatar also, leading us with the narrow corridor of sea and air to keep a country going with food and supplies. Up to 2017 Qatar was receiving 40% of it everyday goods from Saudi, so the rift left us in a real pickle.

Saudi then issued a list of requests which if Qatar adhered to, they would consider lifting the blockade. Qatar, an independent country, decided not to dance to the Saudi tune and chose to go it alone. That we did and with great success. Months have gone by without any sign of a thaw in the hottest countries on earth, in 2017 when Qatar were due to host the cup, the rest kicked up at the soccer fixture an wouldn’t play until it was changed to Kuwait.   That’s how it’s been since, ne’er the two should meet for the past two and half years until a glimmer of hope began to shine. The Arabian Cup or the locally known Gulf Cup is being played again and again Qatar was chosen as the host except this time, Saudi Arabia decided to break its own 2-year blockade of Qatar by flying its soccer team across their own imposed border!

This happening has rocked us here in Qatar and has naturally stirred a suggestion that the feud could be thawing a little. Why else would Saudi Arabia let it’s soccer team on a direct charter flight from Riyadh to Doha on Monday breaking its two-year blockade of Qatar by cross the border to play in the tournament. The feeling is that the future of the blockade is now uncertain. Mind you, the supporters weren’t allowed cross and experts believe the resolve of the coalition to punish Qatar will take years to break.

On Monday, the Saudi national team landed in Doha after crossing the border by plane from Riyadh, effectively breaking the blockade. The UAE team chose not to fly directly into Qatar and took a detour through Kuwait. The Bahraini team flew direct to Qatar. Saudi domestic and international sports teams have played in Qatar since the blockade was imposed but they have always flown first to Kuwait or Muscat, Oman, before entering Qatar. So this direct chartered flight is a real breakthrough, given Saudi’s previous standpoint where back in 2018 they planned to sever Qatar entirely by digging a huge canal. Very Trump.

There have been several indicators in 2019, however, that the blockade may soon be removed. In May 2019, Qatar’s prime minister attended an emergency summit in Saudi Arabia to discuss Iran, by invitation of King Salman, marking his first visit to Saudi Arabia in two years. Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said at the summit that all could be forgiven if Qatar returned to the “right path.” Former government officials have suggested the blockade could soon be a thing of the past.  Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former advisor to the Emirati crown prince, tweeted in early November: “I can share with you that there have been important developments in resolving the Gulf dispute sooner than expected.”

Ironically, despite all this hope which we hoped for, for so long, the shine has gone off a united gulf and with the exception of the reinstatement of a direct flight to Dubai, we here in Qatar, has to ask, what difference does it make anymore?

Watch this space, strange things happen in the Gulf and we’re known for writing our own rules, only last week we had White Friday, because the holy day of Friday could never be labelled black!

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