For more than 15 years the Middle East has been a region of turmoil and instability. Transnational terrorism, waves of displaced populations and seemingly intractable wars present global threats that affect countries far from the region.
In Qatar, we believe that the crises in the Middle East are interconnected and require comprehensive solutions, and that peace and stability will be restored only when the region’s countries agree to work together to reach consensus on key challenges, including the destabilizing influence of sectarianism, rising youth unemployment and our common need to diversify our energy-dependent economies.
But at a time when Arab allies should be united in facing the atrocity of the mass killings in Syria, the escalating war in Yemen, and the rebuilding of state institutions in Libya and Iraq, some regional players have chosen to pursue petty grievances and selfish ambitions that undermine our unity. Exhibit A: the blockade of my country.
For the past year Qatar has been subjected to a reckless and ill-considered blockade imposed by four countries: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. These nations felt threatened by Qatar’s independent foreign policy and in response, they have closed our borders and barred flights to our country. The blockading countries may have expected to bring Qatar to its knees. If that was their intention, their effort has clearly backfired.
Today, Qatar is stronger than it was a year ago. Within 24 hours of the imposition of the blockade, we quickly established new sources and alternate, more sustainable supply routes for basic goods, like food and medicine. In the weeks and months that followed, we signed new, long-term contracts for economic cooperation, at the same time accelerating plans to diversify our economy by diminishing our reliance on our hydrocarbon resources. Last October, months into the blockade, the International Monetary Fund reported that Qatar’s economy was the fastest growing in the Gulf.
Meanwhile, the Middle East remains in turmoil. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has consolidated power in Syria, shifting the regional and geopolitical landscape; besieged Palestinians in Gaza have risen up in protest, focusing new attention on the need for a workable peace plan between the Palestinians and the Israelis; and Yemen is entering its third year of war, with tens of thousands already dead and no end in sight. These issues are important to the people of the Arabian Peninsula, and all of them cry out for a united Arab voice.
Qatar believes that the stakes are too high, and the time too limited, to focus on differences between and among the Arab states. The administration in Washington clearly shares this view. My counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, has stressed the importance of Gulf unity. President Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to see the Gulf dispute resolved. All agree it is time for this sorry chapter in Gulf history to come to an end.
The blockade of Qatar — now widely viewed as instigated under false pretenses — has undermined the Middle East’s stability. By now it should be clear that there can be no “winners” in this dispute. It is therefore time for the blockading nations to abandon their delusions of victory, prioritize the security interests of the entire Middle East and end the blockade.
Qatar believes that the Gulf states need to establish a new framework for advancing peace and security. Historically, the Gulf Cooperation Council — an organization of which three of the blockading countries are a part — has played a stabilizing role in Gulf affairs. But the G.C.C. was never meant to serve as a regional court, an advocacy group or a policymaking body.
The issues confronting the nations of the Arabian Peninsula require a broader platform for dialogue and negotiation. Qatar’s government believes that a new regional pact, unencumbered by the recent rift, could bring back the positive leadership and authority that once existed and that this would help our region to address the economic and political challenges we face. Qatar believes that the current G.C.C. stalemate, in particular, highlights the urgent need for such an agreement.
We hope that wisdom will prevail and that our neighbors will join us in creating a new mechanism to promote our collective security interests and advance the cause of peace. By restoring Gulf unity and establishing a new framework for conflict resolution, we can make our region, and the world, more stable and secure.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is Qatar’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs.