The Saudi Arabian-led blockade of its smaller Gulf neighbour Qatar began on 5 June. The Saudis, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt put in place economic and political sanctions including closing their airspace to Qatari flights, shutting the Saudi-Qatar land border, forcing their citizens to leave Qatar and expelling Qataris from their territories.
The Saudis demanded Qatar close the state-owned TV station al-Jazeera, end all cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, and cut contact with the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar was also to submit to regular compliance checks. The ultimatum amounted to bullying Qatar into ending its independent foreign policy which differs significantly from the Saudis. The Saudis find it intolerable that their citizens are able to listen to an alternative news source, al-Jazeera. And the Saudis are scared of the Muslim Brothers and the influence of Iran. Packaging the dispute for a Western audience the Saudis have claimed Qatar is funding terrorism.
Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia are unpleasant absolute monarchies. Their ruling classes are fabulously wealthy, cynical and despotic. But both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have funded jihadi Islamists in Syria. Qatar, bolstered by enormous oil and gas wealth, has not agreed to settle with the Saudis. Instead it has imported food from Iran and Turkey. This week the Saudi-led group softened their stance, opting to recast their demands as general principles rather than require very specific actions. The UK has now called for the end of the boycott of Qatar — joining France and the US.