Qatar seeks com­pen­sa­tion for dam­ages from boy­cott

Gulf set­tles in for long cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

Qatar yes­ter­day an­nounced it was es­tab­lish­ing a com­mit­tee to pur­sue com­pen­sa­tion claims po­ten­tially worth bil­lions of dol­lars over the coun­try’s “block­ade” by Gulf states. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ali bin Fe­tais Al-Marri said the Com­pen­sa­tion Claims Com­mit­tee would deal with cases in­clud­ing ma­jor com­pa­nies, such as Qatar Air­ways, and in­di­vid­ual Qatari stu­dents who have been ex­pelled from the coun­tries where they were study­ing. “This com­mit­tee will re­ceive all claims, whether from the pub­lic sec­tor, pri­vate sec­tor or in­di­vid­u­als,” Marri told jour­nal­ists at a press con­fer­ence in Doha.

Po­ten­tial plain­tiffs such as Qatar Air­ways, banks or in­di­vid­u­als will be able to file claims over what Doha has la­beled a “siege” in courts at home and abroad, in­clud­ing in Paris and Lon­don, Marri said. Qatar has said thou­sands of its cit­i­zens have been af­fected by the iso­la­tion mea­sures in what has emerged as the worst diplo­matic cri­sis to hit the Gulf in re­cent years. Doha’s Na­tional Human Rights Com­mit­tee in June said the sanc­tions rep­re­sented a vi­o­la­tion of the rights of some 140 Qatari pupils study­ing in the UAE, Saudi and Bahrain.

Qatar Air­ways has made Doha a global hub in just a few years, but ex­perts say neigh­bor­ing Gulf states bar­ring it from their airspace threat­ens its po­si­tion as a ma­jor transcon­ti­nen­tal car­rier.

The Com­pen­sa­tion Claims Com­mit­tee will be over­seen by Marri, as well as of­fi­cials from the min­istry of for­eign af­fairs and min­istry of jus­tice. Marri in­sisted that the de­ci­sion to pur­sue com­pen­sa­tion for dam­ages is not tied to cur­rent state of ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Qatar and the four bloc coun­tries. “The dif­fer­ence be­tween pol­i­tics and law is that in law there is con­ti­nu­ity, un­like pol­i­tics, which could be stopped by cer­tain con­di­tions,” he said.

Mean­while, more than a month since the start of the diplo­matic cri­sis grip­ping the Gulf, hopes of a swift res­o­lu­tion seem as re­mote as a sum­mer down­pour in the desert. Both sides - the group of Saudi-led al­lies against Qatar - seem as en­trenched in their po­si­tions as ever and as un­likely to find a face-sav­ing so­lu­tion for all as at any time since the con­flict erupted on June 5. “I think that this cri­sis has a way to go still,” said Kris­tian Ul­rich­sen, a Gulf an­a­lyst with the Baker Institute at the US-based Rice Univer­sity.

He is not alone. A weary US State De­part­ment this week sig­nalled its be­lief that the row - which has seen Saudi Ara­bia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emi­rates and Egypt sever ties with Qatar over claims it sup­ports Is­lamist ex­trem­ists - will rum­ble on, at best, for some time. “We be­lieve that this could po­ten­tially drag on for weeks. It could drag on for months,” State De­part­ment spokes­woman Heather Nauert said on July 6.

The first days of July had of­fered a tiny, hope­ful glimpse of a res­o­lu­tion as the re­gion awaited Qatar’s re­sponse to the list of 13 oner­ous de­mands placed on Doha by the Saudi-led bloc. But a de­fi­ant Qatar, which de­nies the charges of sup­port­ing ex­trem­ism, then called the de­mands - such as clos­ing broad­caster Al-Jazeera and the Turk­ish mil­i­tary base in Doha - “un­re­al­is­tic”. In re­turn, Saudi and its al­lies threat­ened fur­ther sanc­tions, while Qatar hit back, la­bel­ing the four Arab states “siege coun­tries”.

“There will be no lift­ing of the sanc­tions any time soon, I can’t see that hap­pen­ing,” said An­dreas Krieg of the De­fence Stud­ies De­part­ment at King’s Col­lege Lon­don. The cri­sis seems to be in dead­lock. “It ap­pears that Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE un­der­es­ti­mated Qatar’s abil­ity to very quickly bring on board ma­jor re­gional pow­ers such as Turkey and Iran,” Christo­pher David­son, an ex­pert on Mid­dle East pol­i­tics at Bri­tain’s Durham Univer­sity, told AFP. “In this con­text, push­ing for­ward with any form of cross-bor­der in­ter­ven­tion seems un­likely, with in­stead a long drawn out slow-bleed of Qatar’s econ­omy prob­a­bly be­ing the pre­ferred Saudi-UAE strat­egy.”

So what hap­pens next? On the diplo­matic front, the push is com­ing from the West with the visit of Bri­tish For­eign Min­is­ter Boris John­son to the re­gion this week­end, fol­lowed by the sched­uled ar­rival of US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son in re­gional me­di­a­tor Kuwait on July 10. In Nauert’s state­ment she also warned the con­flict “could pos­si­bly even in­ten­sify”. This could man­i­fest it­self in two ways.

On the sanc­tions front, at­ten­tion ap­pears to be turn­ing to re­gional po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions and, more ten­ta­tively, trade. There has been much spec­u­la­tion that Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and Bahrain will seek to push Qatar out of the six-na­tion Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil either through sus­pen­sion or ex­pul­sion. Re­ports in the Saudi me­dia have sug­gested this could be the next step in Qatar’s iso­la­tion though it is un­clear if there would be enough votes to carry this through.

Krieg spec­u­lated that Saudi Ara­bia in­stead might ma­neu­ver to pe­nal­ize Qatar through its mem­ber­ship of the Arab League. On trade, there have been sug­ges­tions that Saudi Ara­bia and the UAE may present in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies with a choice of do­ing busi­ness with them or Qatar, not both. That though is far from a risk-free strat­egy, Ul­rich­sen said. “Such a move may re­bound on Riyadh and Abu Dhabi if it calls into ques­tion the vul­ner­a­bil­ity of com­mer­cial de­ci­sions to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence,” he said.

Krieg added that such a move could ul­ti­mately back­fire on Saudi Ara­bia’s own at­tempts to re­struc­ture its econ­omy, in any post-oil world. It is also un­likely that in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies would cave in to such orders. Fol­low­ing a de­ci­sion on July 4 by Qatar Petroleum to ex­pand gas pro­duc­tion by 30 per­cent, us­ing joint ven­tures with in­ter­na­tional busi­nesses, com­pa­nies were re­port­edly al­ready form­ing an or­derly queue for con­tracts.

One Saudi-based com­men­ta­tor, Ab­dul­rah­man Al-Rashed, though in­sisted re­cently that Qatar will “fold” but make con­ces­sions beyond the “spot­light”. It is un­clear, how­ever, what those might be. “There are no ap­par­ent ar­eas of con­ces­sion. This looks like it will go down to the wire,” said David­son.

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