We are Qatar
Well, what a week!! Ive been in Qatar now for 4 years and we've had some ups and downs and one or two troubled times, especially back in 2014 when diplomatic ties with our neighbours took a step back for a few months but on the whole, I've always had the view and the feeling that Qatar is pretty much one of the safest and most stable nations in the Middle East.
Then last Monday the ground shook beneath our feet and we suffered what can only be described as a geopolitical earthquake. Sudden and severe, with instant impact, initially causing panic among the people, had us holding our breath for a few days waiting for the aftershocks and leaving long term consequences which we are still yet to truly grasp.
On Monday 5 June, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, recalling their citizens and putting the country under an air, land and sea blockade. Qatar imports 90% of its food, much of that overland through Saudi Arabia, with which it shares its only land border. This border is now closed and deserted.
With every day that passed, we learned a little more and, working for Al Jazeera, we were more nervous than most, given that closure of Al Jazeera appeared to be one of the demands being made by the countries involved.
The timing seemed to be linked to Donal Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia, and now it is clear that this was indeed the catalyst. Trump now openly admits that he spoke with some of the nations at the Arab summit about 'what to do about Qatar', despite the fact that he had been openly friendly with Sheikh Tamim and talked of selling him lots of "beautiful American weapons".
The key charge was that Qatar finances terrorism and within days, there appeared a list of individuals and organisations including Qatar Charity which KSA and others suggested were involved in terrorist activities. This claim was refuted by the UN who said they had worked in partnership with Qatar Charity and it undertook great works in the region, assisting refugees, building schools and offering humanitarian aid in some of the worst affected trouble spots in the world, including Yemen, Gaza, Somalia, Syria and Iraq.
There are many theories out there as to what this is really about, and I don't intend to address them all here. Suffice to say there seems to be a little bit of old fashioned jealousy at the way Qatar has built significant relationships and partnerships with nations around the world, has developed a well respected global media organisation and has grown its airline rapidly to become one of the most popular in the region and internationally, it is the richest nation in the world per capita and of course there is the World Cup!
Along with this, there is the order in the region with the scales so delicately balanced that a nod or a wink from the US President can have a huge impact. Obama's stance on Iran and KSA kept the pot under a gentle simmer. With Trump's visit to KSA, he was smooched and sword danced into a stuper and love-bombed into whole heartedly standing behind anything the KSA wanted to do. Not to mention, this action happened to fall neatly into the lap of Trumps' buddy 'Bibi' Netanyahu who must be rubbing his hands with glee at this chump Trump folly.
So now that the pot has royally boiled over, how does it feel to live here?
Well after the initial shock, the first day of some 'stupids' panic buying, and a few days of "wtf just happened?".... things are surprisingly calm. The majority of residents are ex-pats from South Asia, Africa and Europe who are not personally linked to the countries affected. We can continue to go about our business pretty much unaffected. Shops are fully stocked - Qatar had planned for this possibility and acted extremely quickly to calm the population and get the shelves restocked and start importing dairy products from Turkey. We've all had fun learning Turkish for milk (Sut) and laban (Ayran)!!
The citizens of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain are suffering the most, especially those who are intermarried which is very common in this region. They were being forced to separate from their loved ones and return to countries where many of them had never lived, didnt have a job, a home or any remaining family members. Qatar has told them they can stay but we wait to see what their home countries will do on 19th June when the deadline expires.
Some Emirates have even suggested that they are ready to burn their passports and will never go back now, especially after their country issued a law which would see anyone sympathising with Qatar locked up for a maximum term of 15 years in prison, even making it illegal to wear a Barcelona football shirt!!
But the outpouring of affection for the country and the Emir, Sheikh Tamim, is creating an atmosphere of positivity, strength and loyalty which is increasing by the day. The dignified reaction by the Qatar authorities and the Royal family in the wake of this action has added to this feeling and people are bonding and talking to each other about what is happening. They are continuing to enjoy the holy month of Ramadan, going out with their children and showing a graceful defiance which is pretty infectious!!
Watch this space as I continue to blog on the ongoing situation and how it feels on the ground.