The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies hosted a panel of distinguished Qatari speakers on Wednesday, 9 August, 2017 to explain the fallout of this year’s crisis in intra-Gulf relations from legal, political and economic perspectives. The exceptionally well attended event forms part of the proceedings of the annual Gulf Studies Forum, which the Center has hosted since 2013 and which has become a focal point for scholarship related to the states and societies of the Gulf. Speakers on the panel, included Khaled Rashed Al-Khater, an expert on monetary policy and political economy; Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, Dean of the Faculty of Law at Qatar University; and Majed Al-Ansari, from Qatar University’s Department of Sociology.

Al-Khater expressed the view that the decision by three Gulf states, in addition to Egypt, to impose an air, sea and land blockade on Qatar was tantamount to an act of war, but also insisted that the country would be able to weather the storm. Al-Khater attributed Qatar’s fortitude to two critical factors: the natural resources which buoyed the economy and what the speaker called “sound economic policies”. He went on to add that it was these two factors which had helped to create Qatar’s economic boom, which also drove forward greater self-reliance within the Qatari economy, something which was increasingly vital with the barring of food exports to Qatar from Saudi Arabia.

Al-Khater was quick to add, however, that the crisis in Gulf relations was an invaluable opportunity for Qatar to reexamine its trade arrangements and how Doha had so far presided over a series of import monopolies which had driven up the cost of living in the country for ordinary residents. The speaker insisted that the present crisis should be a wake-up call for Qataris who should not let the country return to the pre-crisis status quo, pointing out that the three Gulf states leading the siege on Qatar had also ruined the regional business environment and the chances for Gulf-wide economic integration. Al-Khater also underscored the need to ensure that the post-crisis Qatari economy would be able to weather the vagaries of oil price fluctuations, and that the country’s academic institutions—and particularly Qatar University—be used to better guide the country’s economic development.

Following Khalid Al-Khater, Mohammed Al-Khulaifi offered a presentation focusing on the legal aspects of the intra-Gulf crisis. Al-Khulaifi explained that international law, as well as international human rights law, provided a framework through which the present crisis between the Gulf states could best be analyzed. Al-Khulaifi delivered a presentation discussing both the norms of international law, including international maritime law, which the three Gulf countries and Egypt had violated by the terms of their blockade on Qatar as well as the channels of arbitration available to Qatar to seek recourse for the damages done.

Said Al-Khulaifi, the decision to blockade Qatar contravened the guiding principles of international law, which allowed for the use of force between states only for the purposes of self-defense. One particular area of international law which the blockade, which prevented Qatari planes from transiting in the airspace of neighboring countries, broke was the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civilian Aviation, which allowed one country to block the transit of the airplanes of another only in times of war.  

Majed Al-Ansari was the third and final speaker to address the audience, with a presentation that provided a historical background for the crisis. According to Al-Ansari, the present crisis in Gulf relations is an inevitable consequence of the “handover from one generation to the next” within the ruling families of the Gulf states. Alluding to Saudi Arabia, he explained that the fate of the Arabian Peninsula has been subject to machinations aimed at “passing power on from father to son after decades during which the handover of power was ‘lateral’ [among the sons of King Abdulaziz]”. Al-Ansari explained that the crisis in Gulf relations uncovered the deep-seated divisions which plagued the Gulf Cooperation Council, which was never as united as it presented itself to the world, according to the speaker. Al-Ansari added that it was high time for the Gulf states to abandon the charade that they had put on of being entirely in harmony with each other and of ignoring the fractures which exist between them. One particular fault line, said Al-Ansari, was the question of the Arab Spring which had divided the region into an irredentist camp and another which was firmly on the side of the popular will—and of which Qatar was a leading player. Commenting on how this crisis will impact Qatar domestically, in the long run, Al-Ansari quoted Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani who pointed out during a recent visit to Chatham House in London, that “Qatar was not [itself] a democracy”, but that the country was looking forward to greater popular participation in politics.