06/06/2017, 16.49
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The Gulf crisis between Riyadh and Doha, latest chapter in Saudi-Iranian conflict

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt ban Qatari planes from their airspace. The Qatar government calls for dialogue with its former regional allies. Trade, air travel and the 2022 world football cup are at risk. The US and Trump’s visit to Riyadh played a role. Beijing is worried about its investments in the region.

Doha (AsiaNews) – Despite appeals for calm and dialogue from Doha, the diplomatic (and trade) crisis that broke out yesterday between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, backed by its Gulf allies, Egypt and Maldives, continues.

After closing borders and breaking off diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt have banned Qatar planes from their airspace.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have given Qatari nationals two weeks to leave their respective countries. Qatari diplomats have 48 hours to leave Egypt and the UAE.

Saudi Arabia closed down a local office of al-Jazeera but said Qatari citizens would still be allowed to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah.

The restrictive measures are ostensibly due to Qatar’s support for groups deemed terrorist (including the Muslim Brotherhood) and its relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s number one enemy.

After reacting angrily accusing its former allies of trying to impose their “guardianship", Qatar’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling for dialogue with the countries of the region and denied tensions with the United States.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani called for "a dialogue of openness and honesty" to resolve the crisis.

However, in a country reliant on imported food, residents began to stockpile food and other items. In some stores, long queues have formed.

The small, gas and oil-rich Arab country hosts the largest US airbase in the region, which is crucial in the fight against the Islamic State group and for monitoring the region.

In the United States, some prominent Republican and Democratic politicians have not ruled out moving the base in case tensions should persist.

Recent regional developments indirectly confirm the renewed Washington-Riyadh axis following an official visit to Saudi Arabia by US President Donald Trump last month.

For many observers, the visit was a turning point in the region's politics, with Washington giving the Saudis the go-ahead against Iran, as well as countries like Qatar who have good behind-the-scene relations with Tehran as well as those that are not aligned.

Qatar is also slated to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. For some analysts and experts, moving the event cannot be ruled out.

The border closure and the economic and trade boycott by neighbouring countries could affect construction and restrict people’s movement, including football fans.

This year’s Gulf Cup of Nations, scheduled for December in Doha, could be an early victim of the boycott.

Saudi Al-Ahli football club has announced its decision to end a sponsorship deal, worth an estimated US million a season, with Qatar Airways.

Qatar’s isolation could mean huge losses for Qatar’s travel industry and the Doha airport, a major hub for international flight connections.

The airspace ban on Qatar Airways means changing routes and connections, with an inevitable increase in costs that – in the long run – may prove unsustainable.

At least 15 Qatar Airways flights used Somalia's airspace on Monday, many more than on a normal day. Also yesterday, some 76 daily flights were likely grounded, 52 of which operated by Qatar Airways.

For experts, the network impact is huge, and the financial impact will depend on the length of closures.

Iran waded into the controversy opposing Qatar and its former Arab allies, according to many the real reason for the clash between Doha and Riyadh. The latter seems unbridgeable following a statement attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani, which the Qataris claim was the result of hacking of the country’s official news agency.

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday urged Qatar and neighbouring Gulf Arab countries that have severed diplomatic ties with it to engage in dialogue to resolve their dispute.

"Neighbors are permanent; geography can't be changed. Coercion is never the solution. Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan," Zarif tweeted.

“Using sanctions [to settle disputes] in today's integrated world is inefficient, to be condemned and unacceptable," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi.

In recent months, the close relations between Doha and Tehran facilitated the evacuation of besieged Syrian civilians, in both government- and rebel-held areas.

The crisis is also likely to have a major impact on Chinese investment in the region. Perhaps Beijing may need to think about adjusting its “non-interference” diplomatic stance.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘One Belt, One Road’, which has been described by experts as a new ‘Silk Road’, might have met a major roadblock in the Middle East.

China’s neutrality and good relations with all parties – from Tehran to Riyadh, from Doha to Damascus – may not be enough to protect its billion-dollars investment and development projects.

In Beijing’s first – and vague – Arab policy paper issued at the start of last year, it reiterated its commitment to peace and stability in the region, something that the Saudi-Qatari crisis might have fatally compromised.

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