DIPLOMACY THE WAY TO GO

Why Qatari blockade was a blessing in disguise

Embargo has led to Qatar’s prosperity and diversification.

In Summary

• Blockade has, instead, turned Qatar into a self-sufficient country in terms of agricultural and dairy production.

• Doha sought innovative ways to attract international business and foreign direct investment.

I have been a committed audience of the Qatari-based television channel, Al Jazeera, for quite some time. Having a fairly good understanding of the political dynamics that prevail in many Muslim majority countries, I have often found it difficult to believe that a media outlet with the boldness and independence of Al Jazeera can exist in a Muslim country, especially a Gulf state!

Many Muslim countries, especially Gulf states, are known for their autocratic rulers who are averse to bold and independent media. Hence, for the authorities of the Gulf state of Qatar to sponsor and allow a bold and independent media like Al Jazeera to flourish, there must be something unique about the government in Doha that the rest of the Muslim world should emulate.  

The 2017–19 Qatar diplomatic crisis began in June 2017, when several predominantly Muslim countries severed diplomatic relations with Qatar and banned Qatari aeroplanes and ships from utilising their airspace and sea routes.

The blockading states claimed that the Qatari regime is responsible for promoting “terrorism” and “destabilising the region”. They accused Qatar of violating a 2014 agreement with the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Not surprisingly, they also criticised Al Jazeera for its bold and independent journalism that exposes bad governance and corruption in various majority Muslim countries. They demanded the disbandment and closure of Al Jazeera, among other things, as a condition to lift the blockade.

Blockades are, instead, building resilience and innovativeness among those targeted. For example, a decades-long blockade and embargo imposed on militant groups such as Hezbollah of Lebanon has inculcated in them a resilience that led them to be innovative and turn into even more formidable fighting outfits.

But despite Qatar’s clear record in the war on terrorism as exhibited by Doha’s military intervention against ISIL, the country is still subjected to the blockade that continues to bite.

However, as much as the blockade was intended to paralyse Qatar and, hopefully, bring down the government in Doha, I am one of those who are now convinced that the blockade was a blessing in disguise.

The blockade allowed Qatari authorities to engage in massive economic charm offensives in the region and win over new regional powers such as Turkey.

Doha also weathered criticism or any possible fallout at the international level by pursuing a vigorous diplomatic campaign, which demonstrated that the country has been simply maligned by devious powers and regimes in the region.

The isolation brought the Qataris together and infused in them a spirit of national fervour never seen before. It has also shaken up the internal market conditions as the country is gradually moving away from an immediate dependency on neighbours to a market economy where there is greater reliance on self-sufficiency. Qatar is also energetically opening up new economic linkages with far away powers and economies.

Recent reports indicate that the blockade has, instead, turned Qatar into a self-sufficient country in terms of agricultural and dairy production. For a country that used to import even the most basic commodities such as tomatoes, Qatar decided to bolster national food security through Baladna, an agricultural company that raises livestock and produces copious amounts of dairy products.

Driven by the impossibility of importing foods from nearby countries, the Qatari government implemented Baladna and other infrastructure projects to cope with the desert landscape. These initiatives use innovative solutions to transform the arid landscape into fruitful agricultural land.  

Additionally, while the embargo was intended to incapacitate Qatar’s economy, it instead led to Qatar’s prosperity and diversification. To compensate for severed economic ties with other Gulf states, Doha sought innovative ways to attract international business and foreign direct investment (FDI).

As we speak, companies are enticed to operate in Qatar because it has a legal environment based on English common law, the right to trade in any currency, 100 percent foreign ownership, 100 percent repatriation of profits and a 10 percent corporate tax on locally sourced profits. Along with FDI, the domestic production of medicine and agricultural products has grown significantly.

Not so long ago, the quickest means to resolve a dispute between two sovereign states was going to war. But this form of intervention lost favour in the 21st century.

Given the resilience that Qatar has shown under the yoke of the blockade, the question now is—are economic sanctions and blockades still effective tools of settling diplomatic scores between feuding countries?

Not so long ago, the quickest means to resolve a dispute between two sovereign states was going to war. But this form of intervention lost favour in the 21st century.

The conventional armed confrontation was quickly replaced by a popular strategy called blockade where, if a given aggrieved political entity has the necessary clout in the international community and is reasonably powerful over its adversary, it can bring the latter to its knees without firing a single bullet.

Blockade or forced isolation involves a diplomatic, military, and economic component. But Qatar has shown that this strategy is also becoming ineffective the way conventional armed confrontation became ineffective.

Blockades are, instead, building resilience and innovativeness among those targeted. For example, a decades-long blockade and embargo imposed on militant groups such as Hezbollah of Lebanon has inculcated in them a resilience that led them to be innovative and turn into even more formidable fighting outfits.

In this regard, we may just resort to diplomatic ways of dialogue and constructive engagement as the surest way of resolving disputes among countries.

Deputy chair of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims