Qatar seeks compensation for damages from boycott
Gulf settles in for long crisis
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.