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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Timeline: How the GCC crisis erupted over three years

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It has been more than three years since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an illegal blockade on Qatar. 

The Gulf region has witnessed a series of drastic changes over the past three years that fractured the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

On Monday evening, Kuwait announced a major breakthrough that effectively ended the blockade on Qatar and signalled reconciliation between Gulf leaders.

To mark this occasion, Doha News takes a look back to 2017 when the GCC crisis first erupted and dealt a major blow to foreign policy, trade and, more importantly, the lives of millions of residents in the region.

2017

The hack: May 23 

Qatar News Agency’s [QNA] website is hacked and false statements attributed to the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani are published. 

Qatar swiftly dismisses the reports as false as Emirati and Saudi media immediately begin spreading the fake news story across all major outlets.

Immediately after the hack, which was conducted by an “unknown entity” at the time, the FBI launched an investigation to identify the perpetrators.

Official announcement of the blockade: June 5

As a fierce anti-Qatar campaign kicks off, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severe diplomatic ties with Doha and impose a land, sea, and air blockade over accusations it “supports terrorism”. 

On the morning of 5 June 2017, millions awake to news of Bahrain cutting its ties with Qatar. Shortly after, Saudi Arabia makes the same announcement, later followed by the UAE and Egypt – with even the Maldives and Yemen following suit.

The embargo causes a state of panic among citizens and residents of all five countries, especially those with families residing in Qatar.

Source: Ramesh Bista, The Record

The country’s flag carrier, Qatar Airways immediately diverts its routes amid threats of attacks.

On the same day, UAE airlines – Etihad, Emirates, FlyDubai and Air Arabia – along with Saudi Airlines stop all flights to Qatar.

Nationals of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt are ordered to leave Qatar on June 19, a decision which affected thousands of students studying in the neighbouring countries.

In Qatar, a state of panic erupts as residents flood grocery stores amid fears of a shortage in basic goods, from dairy products to cleaning supplies. At the time, more than 90% of Qatar’s supplies were imported.

Turkish ally President Recepy Tayyip Erdogan swiftly takes action to supply Qatar with its own products as authorities in Doha begin a major self-sustainability drive to produce local goods. Among the most major brands to emerge is Baladna, now Qatar’s largest dairy farm. 

Qatari camels were also a casualty of the blockade. A total of 600 camels kept in the UAE were sent back to Doha at the Qatari government’s expense.

The 13 demands: June 23

Following an exchange of statements from diplomats in all Gulf countries and beyond, the blockading countries, now known as the ‘blockading quartet’ issues a list of 13 demands for Qatar.

The list includes: shutting down state-owned media network Al Jazeera, downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran, financially compensating the four blockading countries for the alleged damage caused by Qatar’s policies, and ceasing all military corporations with Turkey – which sent at least 3,000 troops to Doha when the blockade was announced.

“File:Al Jazeera English Newsdesk.jpg” by Wittylama

Qatar was given ten days to respond to the demands, but Kuwait’s then ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah – who traveled back and forth around the region as part of his efforts to mediate between the countries – managed to extend the deadline by 48 hours.

“Demands were meant to be rejected”: July 1

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani announces his country’s rejection of all 13 demands, saying they infringe Doha’s sovereignty and “shut freedom of speech”. 

“We believe that the world is not governed by ultimatums, we believe that the world is governed by international law, it is governed by an order that does not allow large countries to bully small countries,” said the foreign minister less than 48 hours before the deadline.

Hackers exposed: July 20

Qatar’s Ministry of Interior [MOI] announces the UAE was behind the May hacking of QNA, saying the cyber attack was pre-planned as early as April.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ali Mohammed al-Mohannadi, head of the ministry’s technology division said the hackers, whose IP [internet protocol] address was traced to the UAE, had complete control over the website, accounts, and its social media platforms.

According to the MOI, the hackers had access through a loophole in the system and installed “malicious programmes” to proceed with the hacking. This was done after scanning the website using a VPN software a month before the breach.

A Washington Post report also reveals that information from US intelligence officials proved the involvement of UAE government officials, who discussed the hack a day before it was carried out.

The reports were later dismissed as “false” by UAE officials and Qatar later referred the case for further prosecution.

New trade lines: September 4

Qatar opens a land and sea cargo line to enable trade with Turkey and Iran, which reduced shipping costs by 80% as movement continues to be restricted due to the blockade.

Later on September 10th, Qatar announces 13 new shipping lines.

A condemnation: September 19

Addressing the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim condemns the “unjust blockade” on his country as a “violation of human rights conventions and norms”.

Source: Amiri Diwan

“The countries who imposed the unjust blockade on Qatar have intervened in the internal affairs of the State by putting pressure on its citizens through foodstuffs, medicine and ripping off consanguineous relations to force them to change their political affiliation to destabilise a sovereign country. Isn’t this one of the definitions of terrorism?” he said in his opening speech.

The Amir also reiterates his country’s role in the fight against terrorism, dismissing false accusations by the quartet to impose the blockade on Qatar.

38th GCC Summit: December 5

Qatar’s Amir attends the 38th GCC summit in Kuwait, marking the first time diplomats and leaders of the Gulf meet face-to-face since the GCC crisis began.

Leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain fail to show up and the summit is cut short by a day. No agreement is made to resolve the crisis. 

Harming the Qatari economy: December 19

Qatar’s central bank launches an investigation into outside attempts to harm the Qatari economy by manipulating the currency, securities and derivatives markets.

Until the illegal blockade is lifted, the Qatar Central Bank will work to ensure our financial sector and economy remains robust and stable despite the illegal actions of the blockaders,” said the bank in a statement.

2018

Seeking international arbitration: 10 January

Qatar begins seeking international arbitration to end the blockade days after the release of a UN report detailing the human rights violations committed by the blockading countries.

“This report shows without a speck of doubt that these procedures undertaken by blockading countries are not mere diplomatic severing of relations, they are not just an economic boycott…these are unilateral, abusive, arbitrary measures that are impacting citizens and expats in Qatar,” said Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri, head of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar [NHRC].

“united nations flag” by sanjitbakshi

The report was released after representatives from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [OHCHR] met with some 20 governmental and civil society groups in Qatar, in addition to people affected by the blockade.

First airspace breach: 11 January 

Qatar’s ambassador to the UN sends a message to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the president of the Security Council about an airspace violation conducted by UAE jets.

On 21 December 2017, UAE jets breach Qatar’s airspace despite the blockade it imposed on Doha in June. Qatar considers the incident was a “violation” of its “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

More legal measures: 11 June 

Qatar takes the UAE to the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, for violating human rights of its nationals.

“As set forth in detail in Qatar’s application to the International Court, the UAE led these actions, which have had a devastating effect on the human rights of Qataris and residents of Qatar,” the government said in a statement,” the Qatari government said.

Qatar states the UAE has carried out discriminatory actions against Qatari citizens by expelling them from the Emirates and restricting their movement through the air, land and sea blockade.

The file submitted by Qatar was later approved by the UN on July 23rd.

beoutQ steals BeIN Sports broadcast feed: 21 August 

English Premier League reveals that Saudi-based Arabsat satellite operator enabled pirate channel beoutQ, which stole Qatar’s BeIN Sports broadcast feed, to illegally use its services.

BeoutQ broadcasted all Premier League matches throughout the Middle East without getting the rights to do so.

Source: SportsPro media

“Since August 2017, beoutQ has been stealing the broadcast feed of some of the most internationally renowned sports brands and rights holders in the world, pirating everything from the Olympic Games, Formula 1 and Wimbledon tennis, to the UEFA Champions League, the English Premier League and LaLiga,” beIN said in a statement.

In response to the piracy, the Premier League issued a complaint to the European Commission.

OPEC withdrawal: 3 December 

Qatar announces its withdrawal from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] in January, leaving the bloc of 15 oil-producing countries after decades of trade.

Officials state the withdrawal will enable Qatar to develop and increase its natural gas production from 77 million tonnes per year to 110 million tonnes. 

2019

‘Blockade derby’: 2 February 2019

Qatar wins the 2019 Asian Cup after beating regional rivals in the United Arab Emirates. Despite the win, Saudi and Emirati media refuse to mention Qatar while reporting on the final.

The semi-final between the Emirates and Qatar saw the visiting team pelted with shoes.

The cup-lifting ceremony is downgraded with senior UAE officials refusing to attend.

Suing Luxembourg bank: 8 April 

Qatar sues Luxembourg-based Banque Havilland, the United Arab Emirates’ First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB), and Saudi Arabia’s Samba Bank for manipulating its currency in an attempt to harm the country’s economy.

Banque Havilland in Luxembourg

The Qatari government accuse the UAE and Saudi Arabia of attempting to weaken the country’s riyal currency by submitting thousands of “fictitious and depreciated” quotes. This was done to undermine Qatar’s ability to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, forcing it to co-host it with the UAE and Saudi Arabia instead, the filings said.

First sign of progress after almost three years: 6 December 

Qatar’s foreign minister says his country is in talks with Saudi Arabia to resolve the Gulf crisis, saying that they have “moved from a stalemate”.

His announcement came following reports that he had visited Riyadh in October where he met senior Saudi officials. 

40th GCC Summit: 10 December

Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani attends the 40th GCC Summit in Riyadh.

Despite calls for regional unity during the summit, there were no further outcomes or signs of progress regarding the Gulf crisis.

2020

Talks have stalled: 15 February 2020 

Qatar’s foreign minister says talks with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to end the blockade have stalled and were suspended at the start of January.

The Qatari diplomat did not disclose any further information, but reiterated his country’s willingness to negotiate with the quartet to resolve the crisis.

Fake military coup Tweets: 5 May 

Saudi and Emirati social bots claim a coup had taken place in Qatar and circulate a video alleging to show shots fired in Al Wakrah.

Saudi media, including Saudi Gazette, claim Mubarak Al Thani, a member of the Qatari ruling family, had called on the Amir of Qatar to step down.

Investigations shortly reveal the video was a doctored version of one was posted by a Qatari citizen called Rashed al-Hamli, in which he mocked claims of a coup.

A win for Qatar: 14 June 

The International Court of Justice [ICJ] rules in favour of Qatar in a case against the blockading countries for violating international aviation rules.

Qatar welcomes the ruling saying it will lead the blockading countries to “face justice” for violating international aviation rules. 

Blockade was premeditated: 27 September 

Al Jazeera’s ‘Distance Zero’ investigative documentary reveals the illegal blockade against Qatar was premeditated with a sophisticated plan of execution, including spreading fake news on Doha’s alleged support for “terrorism”.

The documentary details how the blockading countries knew of the hacking of QNA and were prepared to announce the blockade on June 5th. Most prominently, a suspicious ‘Qatarileaks’ account was used to spread false information. The account was also traced back to an apartment in Ahmed Abdulaziz Street in Cairo.

Snippet from the Al Jazeera documentary. Source: Al Jazeera.

Former United States Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and UAE ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba also planned to withdraw the Al Udeid Air Base from Qatar, the investigation shows.

Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts taken down: 15 October 

Fake state-backed Saudi accounts operating under the names of Qatari royals and governmental bodies were taken down by Twitter in its anti-disinformation campaign.

The social media company suspended 1,594 accounts, including those which spread rumuors of a military coup in Qatar and fabricated statements from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch [HRW].

First signs of hope: 15 October 

Saudi’s Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, states his country is “committed to finding a solution” to the three-year-long Gulf crisis triggered by his country’s blockade of Qatar.

“We continue to be willing to engage with our Qatari brothers, and we hope that they are as committed to that engagement,” said bin Farhan. “But we do need to address the legitimate security concerns of the quartet and I think there is a path toward that.”

Twitter: Sec Pompeo

He repeats the same statements a week later, despite the UAE’s ambassador to Washington Yousef Al Otaiba claiming that resolving the blockade was not a priority.

Qatar Financial Centre files legal action against Abu Dhabi Bank: 24 November 

The Qatar Financial Centre Regulatory Authority [QFCRA] commences legal proceedings in New York to compel First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB) to pay a court ordered judgment debt of QR 200,000,000 (USD 55 million) that was first imposed on the bank back in August 2019.

The legal action comes after the Emirati bank failed to make payments against a final judgement by the QFC Court and attempted to obstruct an investigation by QFCRA. The action has been filed in New York to recover the amount from assets held by First Abu Dhabi Bank in the US.

Bahrain breaches: 25 November 

Qatar’s border security stops two Bahraini boats that breach its territorial waters.

Bahrain later claimed the vessels were wrongfully intercepted and accused Qatar’s patrols of allegedly violating “applicable regional and international agreements”.

Beginning of a breakthrough: 2 December

Senior White House advisor and US President Donald Trump’s son in-law Jared Kushner lands in Doha after visiting Saudi Arabia to end the GCC crisis.

Later on the same day, sources reveal that a breakthrough in the crisis is imminent, adding that Saudi Arabia will open its air space for Qatar Airways flights. Other reports also say Riyadh may open its land border.

Qatar confirms progress: 4 December 

Qatar’s foreign minister says there has been movement on resolving the Gulf crisis. This is shortly followed by a statement made by Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Sabah saying the rift was on the cusp of being resolved.

Saudi Arabia also comments saying it is grateful for the steps taken by Kuwait.

“We consider with great appreciation the efforts made by the sisterly State of Kuwait to bridge the gap in viewpoints regarding the Gulf crisis, and we thank the American efforts in this regard, and we look forward to it being successful for the benefit and good of the region,” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan tweeted.

UAE and Egypt break silence: 8 December 

The UAE and Egypt finally welcome Kuwait’s mediating efforts after a week of silence.

In a post on his official Facebook page, Cairo’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Ahmed Hafez expresses his country’s appreciation towards Kuwait’s “continuous” efforts towards resolving the ongoing Gulf dispute.

Shortly after, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash tweets that his government “valued the efforts made by Kuwait and the US towards increasing unity within the Arabian Gulf”.

“Talks only with Saudi Arabia”: 21 December 

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani confirms Doha has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia only as it “represents the countries involved in the dispute”.

Source: Al-Monitor

He adds that there are “no obstacles” in reaching a resolution and confirmed Qatar has been negotiating with Saudi Arabia only.

Qatar files UN complaint: 24 December 

Qatar files a complaint to the UN regarding a December 9 breach of its airspace by four Bahraini fighter jets.

Also on the same day, Bahrain calls for an end to the GCC crisis after weeks of silence.

Bahrain’s role in promoting regional stability is still in question following several violations of Qatar’s water and air territories.

2021

Blockade lifted: 4 January

Saudi Arabia agrees to open its land, air and sea borders with Qatar. The announcement comes on the eve of the GCC summit and hours after Kuwait’s Amir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah held a phone call with Sheikh Tamim and the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

‘Reconciliatory’ GCC Summit: 5 January

Qatar’s Amir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sign the Al Ula Declaration to end the GCC dispute, announcing all countries involved in the blockade will restore formal diplomatic ties with Doha. 


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