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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Qatar-Bahrain territorial dispute erupts online as ownership claims resurface on Twitter


Hawar Island and Al Zubarah fort have been at the centre of a historical territorial dispute between Bahrain and Qatar.

A decades long territorial dispute between Qatar andBahrain has resurfaced online once more with social media users engaging in a heated debate on Twitter.

In Qatar, Twitter hashtags claiming rights over the Hawar Islands prompted a swift  response from neighbouring Bahrainis who quickly moved to claim ownership of the land with the hashtag #HawarIsBahraini.

The Twitter dispute represents, on a miniature scale, a historical territory clash between the two Gulf states. Bahraini authorities have long-claimed the Hawar archipelago, despite its location being only 1.9 km away from Qatari mainland.

Bahrain has also claimed Al Zubarah Fort, which lies near the northwest coast of Qatar and is internationally recognised as Qatari land.

Commenting on the matter, former Brigadier General of Qatari intelligence Shaheen Al-Sulaiti said “It shall return, sooner or later #Hawar_Is_Qatari.”

Al-Sulaiti added “not only is Hawar part of Qatar, but the entire island of Dilmun is Qatari, as the people of Qatar were the ones who expelled Nassour the Persian (Nasir al-Madhkur), the Iranian ruler of Bahrain and ended his control over it. Sooner or later, we will take back Bahrain under Qatari rule.”

Read also: Bahrain bars Qatari family from entering in latest provocation since GCC reconciliation: reports

Social media users in Qatar demanded the return of Hawar Island from Bahrain as well as the re-demarcation of borders between the two Gulf states.

Similarly, Bahraini Twitter users called for the return of Al Zubarah to the kingdom. Khalid Al Khalifa, diplomatic advisor to the king of Bahrain, commented on the matter.

We have 83 forged documents that claim what you want to claim, but the international court ruled that #Hawar_is_Bahraini. Al-Zubarah fort remains, because its people are Bahrainis, whether the claimants like it or not, and their rights (Bahrainis) will not be lost no matter how long it takes,” said Al Khalifa on Twitter. 

Past territorial disputes

Bahrain and Qatar were on the verge of war in 1986 over disputed territories, including Al Zubarah, and the Jinan Islands as well as Fasht Al-Dibal.

Conflicts over said areas began as early as 1937, when an intervention by British colonialists settled a dispute by demarcating the borders. At the time, the territories were said to be under ‘Britain’s protection’. Despite Saudi and British attempts to calm tensions, the dispute has remained.

The two sides were advised to raise the feud at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 1990, which requested evidence from Qatar and Bahrain to rule on ownership of the territories.

The case lasted for a decade and ended in 2001 when the ICJ granted Qatar sovereignty over Zubara and Jinan Islands, Haddad Janan and Fasht Al Dibal. Bahrain was given sovereignty over the Hawar islands and Qit’at Jarada.

The Hawar Islands dispute is the only territorial case between two Arab states that has been resolved by the ICJ.

More recently, Bahrain’s Al Watan media outlet created a docu-series outlining the formation of Al Zubarah, claiming the area does not belong to Qatar.

The online dispute comes as the two states face ongoing tensions despite the signing of the Al Ula Accord in January to reconcile and restore ties following a three-year dispute that erupted amid an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar.

In 2017, Bahrain joined Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt in an embargo on Doha over accusations that it supports terrorism. Qatar has consistently and vehemently denied those allegations.

While the dispute has since been resolved with the signing of the Al-Ula Accord at the 41st GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia this year, issues between Manama and Doha have remained unsolved, posing a question on the status of reconciliation between the two states.

Last month, Qatar edged closer to establishing its Doha Flight Information Region [FIR] and Doha Search and Rescue Region [SRR] after the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization [ICAO] Council formally agreed in principle to a proposal.

This enable the Gulf state to expand its current sovereign airspace into the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Bahrain, while achieving safe and sustainable air transport operations in the region.

“The proposal by the State of Qatar to establish a Doha FIR/SRR is of a great importance for the future of civil aviation, not only in the Middle East region, but the entire world and is fully consistent with the objectives of the Chicago Convention,” said Qatar’s Minister of Transport Jassim Saif Ahmed Al-Sulaiti in July.

The proposal also included Qatar’s intention to withdraw from a joint agreement it signed with Bahrain in 2000 under which it entrusted Manama to provide air navigation services over its territory per paragraphs 2.1.1 of Annex 11 to the Chicago Convention.

MOTC also said that the ICAO invited Qatar and Bahrain as well as neighbouring states to agree on the technical implementation of the Doha FIR/SRR and report the outcome of the discussions at the 224th session in November for approval.

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