After a period of what seemed like a thaw between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, mediated by Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Saber al Ahmad al Sabah, the row has taken a significant turn for the worse, putting to rest any notion that they were improving to begin with.
In June 2017, four Arab countries imposed an air, land and sea blockade on Qatar that would send shockwaves through the Middle East and Gulf, as former allies turned on the gas-rich city-state for supporting “terrorism” and enjoying friendly ties with Iran.
Qatar was quick to deny the accusations, raising the case at the International Court of Justice, where it accused the United Arab Emirates of violating conventions against racial discrimination — based on the discrimination that Qataris faced in the UAE. Three of the nine provisional measures requested by Qatar were passed by the ICJ.
In the aftermath, an analysis conducted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that Qatar had in fact weathered the blockade well, making use of buffers to dampen the shocks it caused. To the contrary, the IMF reported that Qatar was set to experience “stronger real GDP growth” in the near term.
With Qatar going nowhere, advocates for reconciliation found increasingly receptive audiences.
In early September 2019, Kuwait’s emir provided back-channel diplomacy between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The press was quick to speculate over a possible thaw in relations, particularly given continued mounting criticism of Saudi Arabia’s coalition war against Yemen, and difficulties in ties between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates over disparate goals within Yemen.
The sentiments were seemingly echoed by Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid al Jarallah, who emphasised that the emir of Kuwait’s efforts were continuous and would not stop until positive results were realised.
But on Tuesday, September 9, the Qatar Foreign Ministry issued a scathing statement hitting back at Saudi Arabian allegations and claims regarding the blockade.
The statement, pulling no punches, described Saudi Arabia’s statement as “coercive,” an “attempt at twisting the truth, and the release of self-serving and untrue statements.”
It went on to add, “While KSA refers to ‘international law,’ it has acted in violation of international law at every turn. While KSA attempts to articulate justifications for its conduct, it has acted to avoid real accountability and justice before neutral bodies of the United Nations. The reason for KSA’s conduct is obvious: when faced with the possibility of a real neutral investigation and analysis of the facts underlying its conduct, it attempts to evade and to obfuscate.”
This was in response to Saudi Arabia's statement that it had severed diplomatic ties with Qatar to protect the kingdom’s national security from terrorism and extremism.
The Gulf kingdom also reiterated that its decision was taken due to Qatar’s violations against the kingdom, as Doha had allegedly hosted terrorist groups.
In light of the fallout from the exchange, many are reassessing how long the Gulf deadlock will continue.
While Kuwait has distinctly served as a mediator since well before its independence in 1961, the Qatar-Saudi hostility has seemingly yet to run its course.