Qatar finds way round embargo
Nearly a month since Qatar was isolated by its Gulf neighbors, residents of the emirate have learned to adapt to the daily realities of living with the embargo. They buy vegetables and milk that come from Iran and Turkey, complain about price increases for staples while those travelling abroad face longer-than-usual flights as most neighboring countries have closed their airspace to Qatar Airways. “The government has found alternatives and there is no problem (of shortages)... despite a slight price increase we can cope,” says Mohammed Al-Chib, shopping at a Doha supermarket.
But he admits he and his family have had to make cutbacks. “We’ve learned a lesson and we consume less.” On June 5, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and moved swiftly to isolate Doha, accusing Doha of supporting extremism. Riyadh and its supporters severed air and sea links with Qatar - which denied the allegations against it - and closed its only land border, cutting off vital routes for imports including food.
In the shock of the first days of the crisis, there was panic-buying and a very real fear of food shortages. These were disproved and Qatar has far proved more than able to cope with the crisis, the worst to hit the region in decades. Supermarket shelves are full again and no one is going hungry just yet. “The shops are well-supplied but prices have increased a bit,” says Maya, a Lebanese expat shopping in Doha.
Perhaps that is not surprising. Qatar is after all one of the world’s wealthiest countries, transformed in recent years thanks to its much sought after energy riches, especially gas. Doha’s defiance - and its ability to adapt - has no doubt annoyed some of its rivals. Though it may be largely a diplomatic crisis, some impacts are filtering their way through to life on the ground.
Some residents have grumbled about shortages, not only of their favorite foods, but also less predictable items such as replacement car windscreens. Prices are definitely a problem. “The market is well-supplied but prices have increased a bit,” added Maya. One Indian resident who runs a small stall, said: “After the border closures, prices have jumped especially for rocket, parsley and chives.” Migrant laborers have told of their fears about food price increases and how it will affect how much money they can send home.
Although it can seem like a distant crisis, the embargo does weigh on the daily lives of the country’s 2.7 million, almost 90 percent of them foreigners. “The blockade is a nightmare and we hope there will be a quick end,” added Maya. One very real consequence, especially during the summer, has been the impact on those trying to fly out of the country for holidays. With the abolition of some routes by the Gulf countries, travelling has become a headache. One Jordanian national complained he had “spent six hours in transit” at Muscat airport for a flight from Amman to Doha, via Oman, because of the flight restrictions imposed by the embargo.
And there has also been the human cost. The decision of other Gulf countries to force home Qataris living on their territory and recalling their own nationals from Qatar has had a real impact. More than 13,300 people were “directly affected”, says the Qatari National Human Rights Committee. In one reported case, a Qatari woman was forced to leave the United Arab Emirates where she lived with her husband and child. When she arrived at the airport with her baby, she was told that he could not fly with her because he is an Emirati national.
And then there is the case of Zayed Al-Marri. Human Rights Watch says he has been blocked on the Saudi side of the land border it shares with Qatar since June 17, where temperatures reach daily 45 degrees Celsius. Saudi Arabia claims he is a Qatari, but Doha insists Marri was stripped of his citizenship in the 1990s. HRW has urged Qatar to let him in to the country. — AFP