By Jessica Chang
In June 2017, members of the Anti-Terror Quartet (ATQ) – Egypt, Bahrain, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia – cut off all relations with the nation of Qatar. They were joined by several other countries, including Jordan, Libya, and Yemen, in placing a restrictive embargo on Qatar’s economy and precipitating the so called “Gulf Crisis” (so called because the ATQ countries are all part of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a political and economical alliance in the Middle East between six member nations, including Qatar itself. Of the other five states, only Kuwait has maintained diplomatic relations with Qatar). Otherwise known as the Qatar Crisis, the embargo is now in its 21st month and represents a significant threat towards U.S. policy in the region.
One of the richest countries in the world per capita, Qatar has long been seen as a regional threat to the interests of the ATQ due to its liberal media culture, hosting of Arab dissidents, and close relations with Iran, Turkey, and Islamic extremist groups. Qatar is the world’s third largest producer of natural gas, and its economy is heavily dependent upon the product. The planet’s largest natural gas reserves are located in the North Field/South Pars field, which is shared by Qatar and the Islamic Republic of Iran, making Qatar reliant on Iranian goodwill in order to access Iran’s third of the fields. The relationship between Qatar and extremist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood is similarly symbiotic – its government has opted to aid many of these groups in return for a reduction in domestic terrorist activity. In both of these cases, it is clear that cutting ties with either of these parties would be disastrous for Qatar, both politically and economically. However, that is exactly what the ATQ demanded of Qatar in a list of 13 demands issued in 2017.
Cut off from most of its regional partners, Qatar has turned towards both Iran and Turkey for economical and political support. It has managed to survive the embargo relatively unscathed. However, these closer ties with Iran and Turkey threaten U.S. policy in the region by dividing the GCC, which the U.S. views as a crucial bulwark against Iranian influence. While numerous attempts have been made to bring the two sides together and end the embargo, the situation remains unresolved.