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Qatar critics alone as ultimatum deadline extended

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Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani reportedly handed Doha's responses to the demands to Kuwaiti mediators on Monday, 3 July 2017. Reuters

Saudi Arabia and three other nations accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism were studying Doha’s response to their harsh demands for lifting a diplomatic and economic embargo on Monday. But one result of their ultimatum has been to isolate themselves if not more than their tiny neighbour.


Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani reportedly arrived in Kuwait on Monday to hand a formal response to negotiators mediating his country's diplomatic tussle with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

Details of the response were not made public, and Saudi Arabia and the three other states were to study them before giving a response of their own.

The response comes after Qatar's four critics agreed to grant Doha an extra 48 hours to comply with 13 demands issued on 22 June after the original deadline passed on Sunday.

Qatar has already dismissed charges of supporting terrorism and said the demands appeared as though they were meant to be rejected.

The demands include withdrawing support for the Muslim Brotherhood, closing broadcaster Al Jazeera and downgrading ties with Iran and Turkey. 

“The thirteen demands… are viewed [by Qatar] as crossing all sorts of lines and essentially would see the surrender of Qatari sovereignty,” says Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding.

“This is not something Qatar is going to adhere to, whether the deadline is today, in two days’ time or a week’s time,” Doyle continues, adding the extended deadline is “a way in which Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can appear to be not as inflexible as their demands make out.”

More economic sanctions on the way?

After some initial jitters in the wake of the first economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed on 5 June, which saw Saudi Arabia closing the small country’s only land border, Qatar showed it was able to adapt and can continue to do so.

“The reality is that Qatar does have quite substantial foreign reserves and substantial investments all over the world through the Qatar Investment Authority that, if required, it can draw upon,” says Allison Wood, an analyst with Control Risks consultancy in Dubai.

“So Qatar has the ability to bankroll its economy in some ways and facilitate the ability for businesses and people in Qatar to continue their lives somewhat normally."

If Doha refuses to meet the demands as expected, the bloc of critics will be faced with the task of how to proceed with their promise to impose further sanctions.

“There is no sanctions-enforcing body in the GCC [the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council] or the Middle East, and unlike sanctions on Iran for example, you don’t have the UN, the US or the EU on board to also impose sanctions at this point,” Wood says.

“Until they’re able to do that, which I view as quite unlikely at this point, they will be limited by the types of measures they can impose.”

Isolation for Qatar turns into isolation for its critics

Qatar has also benefitted on the diplomatic and political levels as outside powers have either offered help or refused to become too involved.

“Turkey certainly has stepped in, Iran is helping somewhat, but more importantly, people in Washington D.C. and most European countries have refused to pick a side,” says Peter Salisbury, senior research fellow at Chatham House.

“Where I think there was an expectation on the part of the Bahrainis, Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians that Western powers would fall in line, particularly [US President Donald] Trump, that hasn’t really happened, and that’s really put the brakes on a more aggressive approach.”

So even if the Saudis and their allies keep up a tough line towards Doha, they will be facing the prospect of limited support further afield.

“Picking sides is something that no outside power and ally of GCC nations will want to do: they do not want to be forced into that and will resent any attempt for that to happen,” says Chris Doyle.

This is one lesson that foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will take to Cairo on Wednesday, when they decide what their next moves will be.

“No doubt they’ll be considering the option of secondary sanctions of tightening the embargo against Qatar,” says Doyle. “But I think other powers will be resistant to the idea that their companies should be penalised for doing business with Qatar.”