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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

‘Deep freeze’ between Qatar and the UAE is over


Photo for illustrative purposes only.
Photo for illustrative purposes only.

After years of frayed diplomatic ties, Qatar and the UAE appear to be working toward mending their relationship and becoming “brotherly countries” once more, analysts have said.

“The deep freeze is thawing,” Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, told Doha News this week. “There are still divisions over how both sides view the region and its politics, but the hostility can’t continue.”

Yesterday, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, in Doha at the Emiri Diwan, according to QNA.

Later in the day, Al Nahyan led a joint higher ministerial committee meeting with Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

The joint UAE-Qatar committee meeting held this week.
The joint UAE-Qatar committee meeting held this week.

That ended with several agreements on culture, tourism, youth and developing small and medium-sized enterprises aimed at strengthening ties between citizens of the two countries, the state news agency added.

“The fact that such a high-level delegation was led by the foreign minister reflects the importance that the UAE attaches to this relationship,” prominent Emirati commentator Sultan Al Qassemi told Doha News.

“After a period of cooling relations it is clear that Qatar and the UAE have turned a page and have accelerated the re-strengthening of ties.”

2014 dispute

Relations between the two Gulf states hit a low point in 2014 when the UAE, along with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar.

The move was seen as disapproval of Qatar’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE and Saudi Arabia perceived to be a threat to their authority.

Behind the scenes, the UAE was also allegedly planting anti-Qatar news stories with American journalists, according to investigative news outlet The Intercept.

For illustrative purposes only.
For illustrative purposes only.

Officially, Qatar was accused of failing to abide by a GCC security pact that pledged non-interference in the affairs of other member states.

As the 2014 diplomatic dispute drew to a close, several senior Muslim Brotherhood members announced plans to leave Qatar.

However, ties between Qatar and the Islamist group were not scrapped altogether, said David Roberts, a lecturer at King’s College London and a Gulf expert.

Speaking to Doha News, he said:

“Qatar has evidently rolled back its support towards these moderate Islamists, which will be appreciated in Abu Dhabi.

Qatar has tried to be a reasonable neighbor and accommodate Abu Dhabi’s perspective and not be as assiduous in support of these groups. But deep – almost philosophical – differences remain in approach to the role of Islamists in the Middle East.”

More broadly, Sheikh Tamim is widely regarded as pursuing a quieter foreign policy than his father, which Stephens said is likely putting its Gulf allies at ease.

“My hunch is that the UAE just doesn’t view it as such an active threatening neighbor any longer,” he said.

Business ties

Despite the frayed political tensions, economic and social ties were largely unaffected by the dispute, which officially came to end in November 2014 with the signing of a new GCC security and stability agreement.

Gulf residents kept traveling to other GCC member states unhindered, and cross-border business – worth billions of dollars each year – continued.

Qatar Airways existing Boeing 777-300ER aircraft
Qatar Airways existing Boeing 777-300ER aircraft

Those economic ties were heralded at yesterday’s joint committee meeting, which noted that there are some 175 flights per week between Qatar and the UAE on the two countries’ national carriers.

The joint statement said there are 1,074 UAE companies operating in Qatar and 4,200 Qatari firms operating in the UAE.


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