Qatari refusal to address Saudi-led quartet's concerns about terrorism has set scene for long-term stalemate
Qatar crisis enters third month as Doha struggles to end boycott
Two months into the Gulf crisis, Qatar and the bloc of countries that accuse it of supporting terrorism and undermining their collective interests are locked in a cold war that is no longer escalating but playing out through diplomatic and legal channels and in daily media and public-relations assaults.
Doha has sought to focus on protesting against the June 5 move by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to cut travel and economic ties, while refusing to meet their conditions for restoring normal relations.
At Qatar's request, the UN’s aviation authority, the International Civil Aviation Authority, met last Monday for discussions under the dispute resolution mechanism of the air travel treaty to which Doha, Bahrain and the UAE are all signatories. Qatar claimed the countries were in violation of the accord because they blocked Qatari flights from their airspace.
Read our essential backgrounder on the Gulf dispute here: Qatar crisis: What you need to know
While the ICAO did not declare the boycott a violation of the treaty, the move produced a small concession for Qatar, as all four countries — including Saudi Arabia, which is not party to the treaty — agreed to provide emergency corridors through their airspace. "Nine corridors have been identified including one in international air space over the Mediterranean sea that will be monitored by the Egyptian authorities," the Saudi state news agency reported.
Also on Monday, Qatar also challenged the boycott at the World Trade Organisation, starting a legal process that is likely to drag on for years.
As both sides court public opinion and the support of world powers, the crisis is now playing out in the United Nations Security Council. Egypt holds the chair this month.
Qatar’s UN ambassador wrote to the council late last month to defend his country against the accusations of funding terrorism and in turn accuse the boycotting quartet of seeking regional political gains through its actions against Qatar. It also accused Egypt of misusing its position on the council.
Egypt denied the allegation in a letter on Thursday, and accused Qatar of supporting terrorist groups financially and ideologically in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
At a council meeting on Thursday, Egypt’s deputy ambassador also said Qatar’s “pro-terrorist” policies violated Security Council resolutions and that it was “shameful” the council had not punished Doha.
"It's crucial for the Security Council to make these countries that don't respect these resolutions accountable," Ihab Awad Moustafa told the council. "For example, the adoption by the Qatar regime of a pro-terrorist policy."
Qatar, he added, “believes that the economic interests and the different political orientations will protect them from any accountability vis-a-vis the Security Council because it has violated the resolutions of the council."
So far, Qatar’s economic and security partnerships with world powers have forced a stalemate, with no clear path for a quick resolution to the crisis. Attempts at mediation by Kuwait, the United States, Britain and France have made no headway.
The quartet are sticking to their original 13 demands as well as the six broad principles they say must provide a framework to any solution. Quartet officials said after a meeting on the crisis in Manama last week that the only negotiations they are open to are over the implementation of their demands, not the content of them.
Qatar has refused these terms, calling them a violation of its sovereignty, and dismisses the allegations as an attempt to force it into line with the Saudi-led strategy for trying to stabilise the region, which includes the sidelining of political Islamist groups. Qatar is the sole Arab state patronising the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots beyond its borders after the group failed to consolidate gains made in the initial aftermath of the Arab Spring.
Despite the damage to its economy, Qatar has managed to weather the boycott by relying on Turkey and Iran for the supply of basic commodities, the bulk of which used to arrive by land from Saudi Arabia and by ship from the UAE. Its role as the world’s largest supplier of natural gas has not been affected, and the quartet has said it will not force American and other international businesses to choose sides.
Qatar has also managed to reduce international pressure by signing a financial counterterrorism agreement with the US that will include American officials being based in Doha as monitors. The pact was signed during a visit to Qatar last month by US secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who has since said that Doha was implementing it. Washington and European powers believe the agreement addresses the core issue of funding for terrorism, but the quartet say it does not address all their concerns.
UAE officials have said in recent weeks that the crisis will probably result in an extended divorce from Qatar, with new regional relationships being forged as the cold war becomes permanent.