On June 5, 2017, the Middle-East plunged into the worst diplomatic crisis the Gulf has witnessed in decades. Bahrain was the first among the Middle Eastern Countries to officially cut-off its diplomatic ties and impose Comprehensive Sanctions on Doha, followed in line by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt who made their announcements within the next 10 minutes. The Four nations namely, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt, in their statements, announced the canceling of all land, air and sea traffic with Qatar, ejecting of its diplomats and ordered Qatari citizens to leave within 14 days. The common thread running through the reasons for the imposition of Multi-Lateral Comprehensive Sanctions has been the alleged connivance of Qatar in abetting terrorist activities of Al-Qaida, Islamic State, Hamas among other terrorist groups.
The fact that as much as 40% of Qatar’s food comes over the Saudi border inevitably, stirred up commotion and distress in the oil- and gas-rich nation that is dependent on imports to meet the basic needs of its population of 2.7 million. The tension between countries of Gulf region has been persistent over years, but this crisis was trigged by statements of Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar given to the official Qatar News Agency. The statement was brimming with praises for Iran and condemnation for President Trump’s hardline policy towards Tehran. The Qatari Government’s claim of it being “fake news”, has not impeded the UAE and Saudi Arabia from quickly acting on the news and imposing a blockage on Qatar.
To drive the possibility of reconciliation further through the mud, Qatar was notified with an ultimatum of 10 days to comply with the 13-Point List. It consisted of demands which were to be observed in order for Qatar to restore its diplomatic and economic ties with the other Gulf Countries. The list contains demands like the closing of Al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations, paying reparations and compensation for the loss of life and other causes, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years, among other things. The demands consciously violate the sovereignty of the nations. The demands on the list, at their core, are highly intrusive to the extent that it demands a monthly audit of Qatar for the first year, after acceptance of the 13-point List. Saudi Arabia remains adamant on the terms of the 13-Point List. The Middle-East has been long grappling with insecurity and terrorism within the regional politics. The hopes for reconciliation and restoring diplomatic relations have further plunged into obscurity particularly with the imposition of the 13-Point List.
Whether the act of imposition of sanctions on Doha, for restoring peace, diplomatic relations and wrestling terrorism, will be efficacious as deemed by the Arab Nations is the question of the hour. The answer to this question is a resounding ‘NO’. The sanctions have had many unintended effects, which the Arab Nations fail to take into account. The blockade has prompted the Gulf nations to pick sides in the already partisan region. Kuwait has been acting as the mediator between Qatar, who has been backed by Iran and Egypt since the inception of the crisis, and the Saudi Arabia has been spearheading and dictating the term of the blockade.
To begin with, the aim with which sanctions in the International Community particularly by the UN are imposed and the propaganda with which the sanctions were imposed on Doha is at the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Sanctions: A Cure or a Curse?
A commonly accepted definition of the term “sanctions” refers to an unarmed, diplomatic means of economic coercion for persuading a nation to alter its behavior or to penalize that nation for violating international law, treaty or convention. However, it has also been used to mitigate and stonewall a situation which might culminate into an armed conflict. For instance, the sanctions imposed by the United Nations (hereinafter UN) on Iran in 2014 and North Korea in 2017 against the development of Nuclear Arms in the respective country, was an attempt to stall the proliferation of its nuclear and ballistic program and change their behavior concerning the development of nuclear weapons. However, the Arms embargo imposed by UN on South Africa’s Apartheid Government 1978, was a conscious attempt to preclude any violence and bloodshed by the Apartheid Government of the country. According to the UN Charter, a prerequisite for imposing sanctions on any State is that the UNSC identify the existence of a “threat to the peace” in the underlying conduct or situation as required by Article 39 of Chapter VII. It may then proceed to impose measures, economic or other, under Article 41 to “restore international peace and security”. Sanctions, on an international platform, are an effective tool for restoring, imbuing or maintaining peace, order, and cooperation between the Nation-States. Hence, sanctions per se are not dreadful; however, they do demand a tactful use. However, in the case at hand, the reason for imposing sanctions and the subsequent demands put forth to lift the sanctions are both so unreasonable, that it is not inconceivable that the sudden and convenient urge to act against terrorism is a mere facade. The desire for political hegemony and power are the driving force behind sanctions. Truth be said, the wording, character and sweeping nature of the document signal a total defiance and blatant transgression of the international law and the UN charter. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have masked the attack on Qatar’s sovereignty and independent foreign policy, under the garb of the demands.
The demand for shutting down the Al Jazeera Network and affiliated stations is a conspicuous depiction of the lack of amenity of the Saudi Arabia with criticism and journalism which demands Government’s accountability. Another demand directs Qatar to pull the plug on Turkey’s military base in Qatar and end military cooperation with the NATO member. Qatar also happens to have a US military base, which maintains its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. However, Saudi Arabia, in its demands; makes no address to any military base, other than the one of Turkey, one of Qatar’s allies. It’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the intrusiveness of the of 13-Point List, and considers the “13-point list against international law”. Thus, the motive behind the sanctions is clearly to isolate Qatar from its allies and coerce it to accept the demands.
In the larger scheme of things, there is a violation the sovereignty of the country as sanctions are intrinsically coercive. To impose a sanction, Nations need pass act with constituent elements in its legislation. Thus, the critics of sanctions argue that it implies “infringement of territorial jurisdiction” as they involve the application of a State’s national legislation beyond its territories. In the case at hand, the demands for lifting the sanctions are directly violative of the basic principle of international law in that the national legislation is only territorial in character. Furthermore, precedents like North Atlantic Coast Fisheries have reiterated the paramount importance of this principle in safeguarding the sovereignty of Nations. Thus, the 13-Point List is a flagrant violation of Qatar’s sovereignty and is less likely to be accepted, thus, prolonging the instability and uncertainty in the politics of that region.
However, while deliberating on Qatar’s Crisis, it is imperative to consider the perspective of the citizens and residents of Qatar. In the grand scheme of things, while the Governments of the Gulf Countries vie for hegemony over the region and make policies for the same, it is the civilians of that nation that are exposed to grave predicaments and uncertainties. In order to get the ‘Eagle view’ understanding of the crisis, it is a folly not to consider the plight of the Qatari citizen and residents, who are thrust into the crisis. Again, a major criticism of the imposing sanctions comes from the Human Rights Perspective. Thwarting economic development and stalling food supply of a civilian population constitutes a violation of their Right to Development, among others.
Sanctions constitute human rights violations where the civilian population of the targeted State is deliberately and indiscriminately attacked in order to change the political behavior of the government of the targeted State. In that regard, sanctions, though permissible under international law, significantly impact the civilian population, amounting to collective punishment of innocent civilians. The adverse effects of such multilateral sanctions on civilians are unjustifiable and must be condemned.
For instance, in Qatar since the declaration of the economic blockade, the civilian pollution has flocked the Super Markets. The Cornerstone analyst put to light that many destitute Qataris make daily or weekly trips to Saudi to buy their groceries, as it is relatively cheaper. Also, import of foods and other goods is as high as 40% of Qatar’s food consumption. Therefore, Qatari residents will surely witness hunger and starvation either due to inflation or scarcity of food, in the near future. Also, after the fallout, all Qatari citizens in Arab Nations of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain were asked to leave within 14 days. They had to uproot their lives and make arrangements to leave their jobs, business, land, and family, without knowing if they will ever return, as the Arab Leaders vie for regional dominance. The social and economic ramifications have hit the civil population most severely. The crisis has taken a toll on the Share Index of Qatar, which has fallen by more than 7%.
The Never Ending Crisis
However, an end to the plight of the civilian population is nowhere around the corner as the crisis is far from being resolved. Saudi Arabia has been adamant on the 13-Point List, and refusing any negotiation of the demands, creating an impregnable deadlock. Thus, the imposition of Sanctions as a means to achieve political stability in the Gulf has proved tantamount to running a fool’s errand. The reckless use of Sanctions by Arab Nations has turned it into a tool which uses first causes plight to the citizens and then uses it as leverage in negotiation. This is detrimental to the spirit of International Co-operation. If vulnerability becomes the driving force behind accepting terms of sanctions, the feeling of resentment and enmity among the Nations will find fertile grounds to proliferate. With sanctions imposed, the environment is less congenial for reaching an amicable solution with a win for both the sides.
The Way Out
It is not possible for Saudi Arabia, to withdraw the Sanctions simply without hurting its integrity. It is risking losing face in the International Community until Qatar accepts at least some conditions of the 13-Point List. Thus, the tactful negotiation is the need of the hour as the sovereignty of one party and integrity of the other is at stake. The International community needs to step up to the task of mitigating the crisis, instead of equivocating. Even though US’ biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East is located at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base, which is located 20 miles southwest of Doha and is home to some 11,000 US military personnel, US has hardly made any statements which would have a decisive impact.
Thus, the sanctions in the Qatar Crisis did more harm than benefit and need to be condemned. The nations are not confused, but convinced that advantages of imposing sanctions outweigh any potential harm. Hence, the detriment done by sanctions in the Qatar Crisis can become a case in point for International Community in understanding various contours and implications of economic sanctions.