Qatar block­ade splin­ters fam­i­lies

Stand­off forces those with mixed cit­i­zen­ship to choose be­tween stay­ing or leav­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske molly.hen­nessy-fiske@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mol­lyhf

DOHA, Qatar — Wafa Yazeedi, a doc­tor and sin­gle mother who runs a hospi­tal in this tiny Per­sian Gulf na­tion, has found her­self in the mid­dle of a sud­den po­lit­i­cal cri­sis that has en­gulfed parts of the Arab world — and threat­ened to break up her fam­ily.

A block­ade of Qatar that took full ef­fect last week­end tech­ni­cally re­quires all three of Yazeedi’s chil­dren to leave the coun­try im­me­di­ately for nearby Bahrain, the coun­try whose cit­i­zen­ship they hold — though Yazeedi has been di­vorced from her Bahraini hus­band since 1999, and her chil­dren grew up with her in Qatar.

“How will they get an ed­u­ca­tion? And will I be able to visit them?” Yazeedi said be­tween meet­ings at her of­fice Mon­day. “My chil­dren, they are all at risk now.”

In light of the block­ade an­nounced by sev­eral neigh­bor­ing Arab coun­tries this month — os­ten­si­bly to force Qatar to break its con­nec­tions with Iran and ex­trem­ist Mus­lim or­ga­ni­za­tions — thou­sands of fam­i­lies with mixed cit­i­zen­ship are hav­ing to make sim­i­lar dire de­ci­sions: Stay, or go?

Bahrain, Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates have or­dered their cit­i­zens to re­turn home. Egypt re­called its diplo­mats. Qatari cit­i­zens were blocked from trav­el­ing to par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries, and those al­ready there were di­rected to re­turn home.

Al­ready, there is wide­spread alarm over just how dev­as­tat­ing the con­se­quences of the po­lit­i­cal stand­off could be in this tight-knit clus­ter of desert emi­rates whose con­nec­tions have al­ways been deep.

More than 13,000 peo­ple are af­fected by the block­ade, in­clud­ing at least 6,500 mixed-sta­tus fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to Qatar’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee.

A Saudi man said he was un­able to claim the body of his fa­ther who died in Qatar two days af­ter the block­ade be­gan — but that was only one of hun­dreds of com­plaints.

“This ar­bi­trary dead­line has caused wide­spread un­cer­tainty and dread among thou­sands of peo­ple who fear they will be sep­a­rated from their loved ones,” James Lynch, deputy di­rec­tor of Amnesty International’s global is­sues pro­gram, said in a state­ment Mon­day.

Cru­cial fam­ily de­ci­sions were be­ing made days be­fore the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan con­cludes with the Eid hol­i­day on Sun­day, a time when fam­i­lies tra­di­tion­ally re­unite.

Arabs from the block­ade coun­tries who stay in Qatar risk los­ing their pass­ports, cit­i­zen­ship and abil­ity to visit fam­ily again. Qataris who stay abroad in the four coun­tries risk los­ing their free­dom if con­victed of sym­pa­thiz­ing with Qatar, which has now be­come a crime in those coun­tries.

The four coun­tries im­ple­ment­ing the block­ade say it is aimed at halt­ing Qatar’s aid and fund­ing for “ter­ror­ist” or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group Ha­mas and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood. The coun­tries sev­ered diplo­matic ties, plus land, air and sea con­nec­tions.

Qatari of­fi­cials have in­sisted the coun­try has been work­ing to com­bat ter­ror­ism through its con­nec­tions and con­demned the block­ade as a vi­o­la­tion of its sovereignty. The rul­ing emir re­mains pop­u­lar, and a blackand-white sten­cil of his face has be­come a sym­bol of re­sis­tance pinned to shirt fronts and plas­tered across SUVs and tow­ers in the cap­i­tal, Doha.

“The hu­man­i­tar­ian im­pact of the block­ade is real. Saudi, Emi­rati and Bahraini fam­i­lies are be­ing forcibly re­called by their gov­ern­ments to­day, de­spite be­ing in­vited to stay by the gov­ern­ment of Qatar,” gov­ern­ment spokesman Sheik Saif bin Ahmed al Thani said Mon­day.

“The so­cial fab­ric of [the re­gion] is be­ing torn apart for po­lit­i­cal rea­sons and we will not al­low our­selves to be a party to this in­jus­tice,” he said.

Qatar has strong mil­i­tary ties to the United States. Al Udeid Air Base in Doha is home to 10,000 U.S. troops. Last week, the two na­tions’ naval forces con­ducted joint ex­er­cises, and the U.S. re­cently ap­proved a $12-bil­lion sale of fighter jets to Qatar.

Qatar’s for­eign min­is­ter, Mo­hammed bin Ab­dul­rah­man al Thani, is sched­uled to travel to Wash­ing­ton next week to try to end the block­ade. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tiller­son has met with lead­ers from Saudi Ara­bia and the United Arab Emi­rates since the block­ade’s launch shortly af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump trav­eled to the Saudi cap­i­tal and made an ap­peal for a united Arab front against Iran, which is an ally and trade part­ner of Qatar.

The for­eign min­is­ter said Trump called Qatar’s emir days af­ter the block­ade com­menced to in­vite all par­ties to the White House.

“The U.S. is help­ing us in pres­sur­ing the par­ties to solve this,” the for­eign min­is­ter said. Still, he said, Qatar is not yet ready to talk with the Arab states in­volved. “They have to lift the block­ade to start ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

Many of Qatar’s 2.6 mil­lion res­i­dents ini­tially pan­icked af­ter the block­ade was de­clared, emp­ty­ing store shelves of Saudi milk and other goods they wor­ried would soon be in short sup­ply. New food­stuffs were flown in from Al­ge­ria, Iran, Morocco, Turkey and other al­lies to fill the gap, but most of those goods went to large mar­kets in the cap­i­tal.

Smaller stores in low-in­come areas are be­gin­ning to have bare shelves, and mi­grant work­ers from Bangladesh, In­dia and Nepal are hav­ing to scav­enge.

A man who came look­ing for yo­gurt at one such market Sun­day found the re­frig­er­a­tor case nearly empty, as were the veg­etable bins.

At branches of Al Meera market, a na­tional chain sell­ing state-sub­si­dized goods, shelves were well stocked with what signs said were Turk­ish eggs “flown in by air,” Ira­nian sweet mel­ons and Al­ge­rian pota­toes. Man­agers posted signs iden­ti­fy­ing lo­cal goods that urged, “Let’s sup­port Qatari prod­ucts.”

Store man­ager Saad Tamim said he al­ready had been im­port­ing some fruits weekly from the United States. Now he has added a truck for daily ship­ments, in­clud­ing berries and grapes from Cal­i­for­nia.

Though the store is sur­viv­ing, Tamim, 35, is suf­fer­ing. His fam­ily lives in the United Arab Emi­rates. He used to com­mute to Dubai weekly, but since the block­ade he has stayed in Doha. He checks the news daily hop­ing for an im­prove­ment, but doesn’t ex­pect to cel­e­brate Eid with his mother.

“Ev­ery day I pray for it to fin­ish,” he said.

One cou­ple from Egypt, res­i­dents of Qatar for 11 years, said they lost their tick­ets to Cairo on Qatar Air­ways to visit rel­a­tives for Eid af­ter the block­ade closed airspace.

“Peo­ple from other coun­tries don’t want to leave. We love it. This is our busi­ness, this is our life,” said the man, Abu Mo­hamed, who was us­ing a nick­name for fear of reper­cus­sions in light of the block­ade.

A 23-year-old Qatari med­i­cal stu­dent who asked to be iden­ti­fied by her first name, Haya, left classes in the United Arab Emi­rates shortly af­ter the block­ade was de­clared, be­fore she could take her fi­nal ex­ams and grad­u­ate af­ter five years of study.

“My ex­ams started to­day and I’m still here,” she said over the week­end.

Haya said she would not feel safe re­turn­ing to Abu Dhabi now. “How are you go­ing to as­sure me I’m go­ing to be fine there?” she said. “My fu­ture is pretty much gone.”

A Qatari busi­ness­man said he was faced with a re­quire­ment to send his wife, who is seven months preg­nant, back to her home in Saudi Ara­bia — leav­ing their 6-year-old son be­hind with him.

“The tar­get is the fam­i­lies,” Naif, 38, who de­clined to give his last name, said of the block­ade. He said he ul­ti­mately left the de­ci­sion to stay or leave up to his wife, and she de­cided to stay, for her job and her fam­ily.

Their sec­ond son would be born in Qatar.

Even if Arab lead­ers mend the diplo­matic rift, Naif and oth­ers said they take the at­tack on their fam­i­lies per­son­ally. Once travel re­sumes, many said they won’t go back to vis­it­ing, shop­ping or do­ing busi­ness with the block­ade coun­tries any­time soon.

“What’s bro­ken does not come back like be­fore,” he said. “We don’t trust.”

Pho­to­graphs by Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske Los An­ge­les Times

MORE THAN 13,000 peo­ple are af­fected by the block­ade of Qatar by sev­eral Arab coun­tries, ac­cord­ing to the tiny emi­rate’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee.

WAFA YAZEEDI’S fam­ily is among those af­fected in Ye­men: Her chil­dren, f lank­ing her, are Bahrai­nis.

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