Qatar’s Resilience: A Model of Resisting Blockade and the Power of Small States

Qatar’s Resilience: A Model of Resisting Blockade and the Power of Small States outlines Qatar’s confrontation of the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. It reveals the exclusiveness of Qatar’s experience due to its management of the crisis and resistance of the blockade.
5 June 2018

Qatar’s Resilience: A Model of Resisting Blockade and the Power of Small Statesoutlines Qatar’s confrontation of the land, sea and air blockade imposed on it by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt on 5 June 2017. The book reveals the exclusiveness of this experience through Qatar’s management of the crisis and resistance of the blockade in terms of the strategies used to overcome the impact on its economy, politics and security. This book is the second Al Jazeera Centre for Studies has published, following The Blockade of Qatar: The Contexts and Repercussions of the Gulf Crisis, which was published during the first three months of the Gulf crisis.

Qatar’s Resilience: A Model of Resisting Blockade and the Power of Small States is being released on the first anniversary of the Gulf crisis. It surpasses the study of the problem and objectives of the blockade and investigates the elements of this small state’s strength through its ability to convert a crisis targeting its leadership and sovereignty and aiming to eliminate its independence and attach its policies to those of its larger neighbours. The book sets out to reveal this through the following questions: What are Qatar’s elements of strength? What are the local, regional and global factors of resilience that helped Qatar resist the blockade? How was Qatar able to face a blockade imposed on it by four countries with greater traditional authority? The difference between the combined resources of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in tangible power such as armament, economy, geographical area and population and those of Qatar is immense, and yet, the blockade failed to achieve its objectives.

The course taken by the Gulf crisis presents an important model of research, investigation and lesson-drawing for those interested in studying conflict and international relations. This collective effort is a contribution in this direction. A group of elite writers and researchers specialised in the Gulf, the Arab world, Europe and the United States attempted to cover all the aspects of Qatar’s resilience during the crisis to integrate their visions and provide readers with the essence of a combined concentrated effort that sheds light on a complex crisis in a region that is vital to the global stage.

The editors, Dr. Ezzeddine Abdelmoula and Haoues Taguia, presented the theoretical framework of the book in the first chapter and then introduced the following chapters. The research papers forming the book’s content range from the internal elements of Qatar’s resilience to the Gulf, Asian, European, African and US roles. There are four subcategories of the Gulf crisis and the way Qatar dealt with it: the economy, the military, the use of soft power and cyber confrontation. The book’s final chapter sheds light on the model provided by Qatar to other small states on the security level after analysing the narratives of both sides of the crisis and predicting its future outcomes.

The first chapter discusses the definition of authority in international relations and the significance of its numerous notions and applications in various contexts. Abdelmoula’s paper attempts to investigate the Gulf crisis from this perspective by concentrating on Qatar’s management of both its hard and soft powers. Taguia, on the other hand, addresses the bet of the blockading states on traditional legitimacies in international relations, which collide with certain facts they had overlooked. These new realities involve a change in the definition of legitimacy in the global system which no longer relies on size but on equality in sovereign rights. In addition, authority is no longer restricted to a state’s size or tangible capabilities.

The second chapter methodologically presents the elements of Qatar’s strength and resilience in the face of the blockade. In this context, Abdul Aziz Al Ishaq addresses the internal factors and concentrates on the elements of Qatari identity, which was formed throughout the history of this young state through a smooth combination between conservatism and liberalism. Contrary to the view of the blockading countries that perceived Qatar’s small geographical size and population as weaknesses, Al Ishaq maintains that these served as strengths. This “smallness” has contributed to the Qatari people’s alignment with their leadership and the failure of the blockading states’ attempts to weaken the internal front by creating a vacuum around the leadership.

At the Gulf level, the neutrality of both Kuwait and Oman provided leverage for Qatar, albeit without direct support. The mere difference in their position from that of Saudi Arabia and the UAE indicated that the overall Gulf position towards the blockade of Qatar is not unified. According to this analysis, which is imparted by Abdulla Al Ghailani, the neutral position of Kuwait and Oman is in favour of the Qatari narrative. Whereas the blockading countries tried to use the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a tool to suffocate Qatar and isolate it both from the Gulf and the Arab world, what Al-Ghilani refers to as the Kuwaiti-Omani “reluctance” prevented that and enabled Qatar to maintain all of its GCC membership benefits. Furthermore, Qatari efforts that succeeded in positively neutralising the positions of these two countries were based on four levels of power, according to Al-Ghailani: the media, moral power, diplomacy and investment prospects.

Ali Bakeer investigates the regional aspect by exploring the Turkish and Iranian roles in facing the blockading states and easing the economic and supply boycott of Qatar. Due to the blockade’s sudden and comprehensive nature, Qatar rushed to find alternatives to relatively adjust the balance with the large traditional power of the blockaders. It chose to adopt selective openness towards Iran for supply reasons as direct reliance on Tehran could produce negative results amid the complicated regional and international balance of power. In addition, Qatar turned to Turkey for help in absorbing the initial shock and confronting the blockade and preventing it from becoming a military conflict. The Turkish role was not confined to direct support as Turkish diplomacy also turned to key actors and Muslim states and urged them not to adopt the position of the quartet. Turkey’s deployment of its military forces to Qatar in the first days of the crisis, enacting the defence agreement between the two countries, probably played the greatest role in adjusting the balance of power and warning the blockading states against starting military intervention.

Not only did Qatar succeed in mobilising the two main regional powers, it was also successful in drawing the support of key powers in Europe and Asia and relatively deterring them from the position of the blockading countries. This was addressed by Cinzia Bianco, who revealed that active Qatari diplomacy played an important role in Europe’s understanding of the Qatari narrative. The European position was also largely affected by the large economic interests between the two sides. The Qatar Sovereign Fund is a main investor in the German, French, Italian and British economies. Key Asian countries also played a large role in Qatar’s economic resilience, especially since the main powers in Asia such as China, Japan and India as well as South Korea and Singapore depend on Qatari gas to a large extent. These countries took a pragmatic approach and saw that the escalation of the Gulf crisis could harm their economic interests. This caused them to reject the blockade and continue importing Qatari gas, especially since Doha succeeded to ensure its flow with no disruptions.

At the African level, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE succeeded in winning over some African countries at the beginning of the blockade, most sub-Saharan countries did not involve themselves in the Gulf crisis at all. Some countries such as Chad and Senegal, which cut relations with Qatar because of imposed pressure or seduction, quickly restored those relations. Only small African countries, which Thembisa Fakude refers to as “subordinate”, such as Mauritania, Comoros and the Maldives continued their boycott. Qatar conducted a swift and effective diplomatic campaign in the main regions in west, east and southern Africa. This campaign involved several visits, the most important of which was that of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani himself. The positions of most of these African countries reflected the position of the African Union, which seemed supportive since the outbreak of the crisis, of the Qatari view of the need for dialogue and a diplomatic solution.

Regarding the US position, Patrick Theros points out Qatar’s delay in investing in relations with the United States despite being the closest of all the Gulf states to it in terms of values. The blockading states by far preceded Qatar in their work inside the United States as Saudi Arabia and the UAE had signed contracts with public relations consultancy firms very early on. The two countries also paid think tanks and research centres based in Washington DC millions of dollars for their campaign against Qatar from the beginning of the crisis. However, despite Qatar’s delay in the competition for Washington’s heart and mind, Doha succeeded in record time to win American institutions over and change the position of the US administration, as well as President Donald Trump himself, who appeared to be in favour of the blockading countries at the outset of the crisis. The rebuilding of Qatari- US relations was launched on a stronger basis than in the past and Qatari efforts led to the holding of the strategic dialogue sessions in 2018.

The third chapter examines Qatar’s strategies to enhance its resilience in four areas: economy, military, cyberspace and soft power. Khalid Rashed Al Khater analyses the reasons behind the blockade’s economic failure, which include the limited exposure of the Qatari economy to the blockading countries due to the structural weakness of GCC states’ economies, the self-power of Qatar’s economy, the counter-policies adopted by Qatar while determining the channels through which the blockade affect the real and financial sectors as well as the trust factor. Nasser Al Tamimi deals with the same matter by discussing the importance of having completed the expansion of Hamad Port six months ahead of the set plan as an economic leverage for Qatar and as an important tool in facing the blockade through the provision of direct international shipping lines. This sea port is one of the largest in the Gulf region and the Middle East and has been able, in record time, to free Qatar from its previous reliance on the port of Jebel Ali in Dubai and land lines with Saudi Arabia.

On the topic of military security, David Des Roches’s paper analyses the problems facing the security of small states, using Qatar as an example. In general, challenges facing small states cannot be faced by stockpiling weapons, especially if the human resources of the state are limited as is the case in Qatar. They should be faced by varying and enhancing alliances with major powers, whether neighbouring or distant. In this regard, Qatar has chosen to enhance its alliance with the United States, benefitting from the presence of US troops in its Al Udeid military base. It has also developed its relations with its ally and the largest military power in the region, Turkey. Regarding its relations with Iran, the other regional country with power paralleling that of the blockading countries, Doha has acted with a large degree of wisdom in refraining from taking steps that would bring it close to Tehran militarily or at the security level. The harm that could result from such relations would outweigh benefits, as seen by Des Roches.

Another field of confrontation during the Gulf crisis was cyber security. The claimed justifications of the crisis were based on fabricated statements attributed to the Emir of Qatar posted on Qatar News Agency’s website by hackers supported by the UAE. Mohammed al-Dorani discusses this dimension of the Gulf crisis and analyses the hacking, its planning stages and the technical requirements for its success. While Qatar enhanced its electronic defences during 2017 through several protective measures such as the creation of a national cyber security centre, al-Dorani expects the continuance of cyber confrontation between both sides of the crisis, especially the blockading states if the crisis persists.

In addition to battles in the areas of economy, the military and cyberspace, Qatar fought a battle related to capturing people’s hearts and minds through its use of its soft power. It has invested heavily in soft power during the past two decades in the frame of what Nawaf Al Tamimi calls “the national trait”. In this regard, Qatar operates on seven integrated fronts forming a strategic shield by which attacking it would seem difficult without the whole world noticing. These fronts are: diplomacy, media, economy, humanitarian efforts, culture, sports and tourism. Al Tamimi concludes that by targeting these components, the blockade axis has failed.

The book concludes with a forth chapter that reviews the narratives and counter narratives of the Gulf crisis and touches on the “small states” theory. Mohammed Cherkaoui analyses the narratives of both sides of the crisis as well as the American discourse at the beginning of the crisis and how it changed from a position of apparent bias in favour of the blockade into an understanding of the Qatari narrative and an attempted mediation between the two sides to end the crisis. Rory Miller, on the other hands, examines Qatar’s dealing with the blockade, concluding that this “microscopic” state – as perceived by traditional authority – has been able to become a powerful one. In contrast to most literature that views that a small state’s natural position in the global system should be that of weakness, attachment and ineffectiveness, Qatar has provided a model to the world that defies this prominent belief. Qatar’s intelligent employment of its economic power, active diplomacy, coherent internal front, and relations and alliances with the largest regional power, Turkey, and the largest global power, the United States, have contributed to maintaining its stability, challenging the blockade and defusing its impacts on all levels.

About the book

Title: Qatar’s Resilience: A Model of Resisting Blockade and the Power of Small States

Author: A group of researchers

Publisher: Al Jazeera Centre for Studies and Arab Scientific Publishers

Date: 2018