Qatar: Cut Off By Its Neighbors

Jun 18, 2017 By Matt B
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Do you know which country has the highest wealth per person in the world? Qatar, a small oil-rich nation in the Middle East holds that distinction.

But the Middle East has also been a region of constant tension, for much of our growing years. 

Perhaps the most important event to occur in the Middle East this year is the sudden decision by some countries like Saudi Arabia to isolate their neighbor, Qatar. What led to this decision? 

Where Is Qatar?

Qatar is a country in the Arabian peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf. The country was first ruled by the Turks, and later was a British protectorate-- until its independence in 1971.

Qatar has the third largest supply of oil in the world. With just over 2 million people, Qatar is incredibly wealthy and has more than $300 billion stored for financial difficulties. However, it is heavily dependent on foreign countries, and imports most products, including food. Locally, there is a reported shortage of food.

Qatar has always had a rocky relationship with the rest of the Arab world, and has defied the power of Saudi Arabia. Its state run media, known as Al Jazeera, became a balanced voice of news in the Middle East at a time when Saudi Arabia controlled all its media. Qatar supported the Arab Spring movement (a demand for freedom) in countries like Egypt, Yemen and Syria -- while Saudi Arabia did not approve of them. 

So, What Happened?

On June 5, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen cut off all ties with Qatar. This also included cancelling all flights into Qatar, and closing the land border. Citizens of Qatar in these countries have been given two weeks to return. 

It is believed that hackers created fake news about Qatar's ruling family which triggered this crisis. But Saudi Arabia and the others claim Qatar has been funding terrorist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. They also accuse Qatar, and in particular, the Al Jazeera media, of politically supporting Iran. Iran is not popular within the other Middle Eastern countries because it is not considered Arab, and follows a different faction of Islam- Iran follows Shia Islam while the other countries are Sunni. 

The US, which maintains a large military base in Qatar, is sending mixed messages. While President Trump supported the isolation initially, he has toned down his support since. The US has also signed a deal to sell weapons to both Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the past few days.

Turkey, Iran and Russia have come out in support of Qatar, with Turkey and Iran flying food and humanitarian supplies into the country. What happens next remain to be seen.