Sunday, 25 June 2017
Gulf Crisis week 3 - Qatar's camels and cows
The Gulf Crisis is now 3 weeks old, and with Qatar now in receipt of 13 demands from its neighbours there seems to be little hope of a speedy resolution. These demands include limiting ties with Iran, with whom Qatar shares a gas field, shutting down the newly created Turkish airbase, severing any affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and closing the Al Jazeera Media Network and other Qatar Government funded broadcasters.
Qatar's Ambassador to the US, Sheikh Meshal bin Hamad Al-Thani accused Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt of trying to "suppress free media and undermine our sovereignty" and stated of the imposed sanctions, "Qatar could continue forever like this with no problems".
As a sovereign nation, Qatar has worked hard over the years to develop an independent foreign policy including diplomatic and economic relationships with other nations around the world. This is now bearing fruit and enabling Qatar to put measures in place to weather the sanctions imposed by the four countries involved. It is this very independence and autonomy along with Qatar's soft power tools such as the Al Jazeera Media Network, which threatens Saudi Arabia and its desire for dominance and control of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Politics apart, as a person living in Qatar, I find the cruelty of some of the actions on the ground astounding. In my last blog I shared some of the human stories of families split apart, affecting not only Qatari's but Saudis, Emirates and Bahrainis too. So many Gulf families are mixed and family members are being forced to choose whether they stay with husbands, wives and children or return to their parents in their home countries. And there is no way of knowing how long this will last, given the aggressive stance these countries have taken, even penalising their own people in the process.
Last week, this cruelty was extended to Qatari owned camels and sheep in Saudi Arabia, which had been stranded at the border for one week, unable to cross, with no access to food or water. It was reported that some had starved, others had been injured from fighting with each other, and when an informal deal was finally struck with the border guards, Bedouin herders were told they had just one hour to get their camels out of Saudi Arabia and across the border into Qatar. In the chaos and confusion, young camels were separated from their mothers and some were lost.
Watch this Al Jazeera video report on the plight of the camels
Historically, the Bedouin have freedom to roam throughout Saudi Arabia with their camels, moving to new pasture as they need to. The tiny Qatar peninsula has no pastoral land and this sudden influx of 15,000 camels now means an additional 3 camels per square mile! Emergency supplies of food and water were rushed to an area close to the border and Qatari owners arrived to try and locate their livestock, with the fate of any that got left behind unknown.
Meanwhile, it seems that any Saudi or Emirate owned racing camels have already left Qatar, removed by their owners and transported back to their respective countries during the original 10 day deadline given for citizens to leave.
And what of the 4,000 cows being airlifted to Qatar from Australia to help provide dairy products to the supermarket shelves? Well, its only partly true - a Qatari business man does have a long term vision for his own dairy farm in Qatar and already had plans to bring this number of cows to Qatar over a period of time. Given the sanctions imposed, he apparently considered fast tracking a small number by air. But this is as yet not confirmed as far as we know......
However, a few thousand Australian sheep did arrive by ship last week and Qatar does already have a dairy farm which was built in 1985. Al Ghadeer Dairy Farm has 2200 heads of cattle and produces around 26,000 litres of milk per day plus yoghurt and other product lines. Since the blockade, it has been struggling to cope with demand, particularly as the cows produce less milk in the extreme summer heat and their feed is now harder to come by.
Food security is a large part of Qatar's Vision 2030 and it is clear that this is becoming more important than ever to this desert nation. In the short to medium term, Qatar will need to continue its reliance on imports from other countries such as India, Iran and Turkey. And certainly, there was a little more variety on the supermarket shelves this week as other Turkish companies started sending supplies for this important Eid holiday season.