The Qatar Blockade: A Reflection

To all my friends and relatives: thank you for all your love, care, prayers and concerns.  We are all well, safe and enjoying food like always in Qatar. There are no empty shelves in the grocery stores and everything is on routine. We have food and lots of it!  

To everyone who is wondering what is going on: I am writing at a time when Qatar is facing a blockade from the neighboring GCC countries; Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.  On June 5th, the 12th fasting day of Ramadan, the country woke up to the news that Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt are cutting ties with Qatar. Qatar stands accused of funding terrorism and meddling with the internal affairs of the four neighboring countries. Soon thereafter other countries followed suit: Yemen, Maldives, Mauritania, Eastern Libyan government, Senegal and Comoros. Others such as Jordan downgraded diplomatic relations with Qatar. Kuwait and Oman stayed neutral with Kuwait leading the mediation efforts to resolve the crisis.

At the time, everyone thought that like the rift in 2014, this conflict too will resolve itself. So the closure of land border, air space and sea will really not last that long.

But matters took a different turn.

The conflict evolved and saw announcement from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain calling their citizens to return from Qatar within 14 days and for Qataris to leave these countries and head back to Qatar.  On the other hand, there were reports that the grocery stores’ shelves are empty as people hurried and stocked up on necessities like water, milk, chicken and rice.

Since June 05th, the crisis hasn’t abated and the political and economic blockade continues. The 13 demands list issues by the four Arab states: including shutting down Al Jazeera, scaling down relations with Iran and shut down the Turkish army base, stands rejected by Qatar. The mediation efforts to resolve the crisis continues from US, Kuwait and Oman.

As the crisis continues and evolves, what have I learned from the current blockade?

A crisis in any form, in any area, whether personal or professional, not only brings changes in life, but also, changes one’s perception and thoughts on various matters.

Qatar is a country where I was born and live to this day. It is my home where I’ve had my beautiful childhood and teenage years. Whenever asked where I’m from, my answer is Qatar (followed by an explanation in a few seconds that I’m Pakistani, but was born and raised in Qatar).

The crisis when it began was a shock. The first thing coming to mind was the 1990 Gulf War scenario. The fear, the anxiety and the confusion all at once raced simultaneously in mind. We, the family, were here in Qatar then and now. We didn’t leave because there was no question at all leaving my dad behind alone. As mom says, “we stay together and  go through every single thing together”.

But in times of political and economic crisis, there are always human costs involved. Qatar was no different. According to Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) “at least 13,314 people were directly affected by anti-Qatar measures” with the violations including family separations, right to travel, education, work, freedom of opinion, residency and ownership. It sent shivers down my spine. I realized how we take family relations and friends for granted. We don’t even think what if , one day, they are all taken away from us. It made me highly grateful to be with my family and to have relations in my life.

The blockade via land, airspace and sea meant that many goods would no longer be available.  Products like Almarai milk, butter and other goods from Saudi, UAE and Bahrain would be unavailable during this crisis. The initial scenario where the stores faced empty racks was true because people panicked and ensured that basic necessities like rice, chicken and milk were available at least for children. Qatar government assured the residents that it had taken measures to ensure that normal life routine continues in the country and there is no need to panic. Turkey and Iran both countries sent food both via plane and sea.

What amazed me was how as consumers we are all highly adaptable to situations. We teach and study in economics that given the change in factors, consumers substitute from one good to another. In times of crisis, that holds to be absolutely true. We didn’t have Almarai milk, but, we bought Turkish milk (and are amazed how actually good it is!). I love Dandy yogurt (made in Qatar), but Turkish yogurt is good. We, the consumers, quickly shifted our preferences to other brands, which makes me wonder when this crisis is over would we ever return to Almarai milk and yogurt?

Prices did spike as expected. Now as goods arrive via sea, the prices will start to go down.

I also highly appreciate mom’s small vegetable garden here. While there was a shortage of mint and coriander leaves for some time, we were enjoying fresh mint, tomatoes and chillies from our Mama Khan’s little vegetable garden 🙂 (she even gave fresh mint leaves to her friends!) The idea of a farm-house really is not that bad 🙂 Maybe in future, I might go for a farm-house than a city life (just a thought).

The critical lesson learned in this crisis is: leadership,patience and tolerance.

The Qatar government continues to bear all the costs ensuring that normal life in Qatar continues for all the residents. And indeed, the normal life continues.

Bahrain and UAE banned people from publishing expressions of sympathy towards Qatar. Sympathizing with Qatar in UAE and Bahrain was a cyber crime, with the offenders facing fines of up to $136,000 and up to 15 years of jail term. While the boycotting countries’ media said a lot on social media, Qatar government requested all its residents to take the higher road by not insulting or saying anything negative about the boycotting countries and their leaders and to express their opinions in a peaceful manner on social media. This is tolerance and what we have seen here is a real life example.

This is true leadership!   Every one has the right to their opinion and there are always agreements and disagreement. Successful is the one who is patient, listens to others and presents arguments in a peaceful, constructive and respectable manner. The Qatari leadership is a prime example of this.

Despite the blockade from neighboring countries, Qatar did not expel their citizens and assured them that they are welcome to stay (even when it could have taken the same path).  Despite the tense environment, we see patience and the leadership continuous, non-stop effort to resolve the crisis through constructive dialogue. It has won the people’s hearts and support! The “Tamim Al Majd” (meaning “Tamim the glorious”) is viral. From car stickers to murals to posters on residences, the strong support and love is evident. Its’ in the air! It brought everyone together under one roof. It has strengthened the unity of a nation.

The crisis has taught me strong positive lessons. I always am grateful for things, but now, I’m highly grateful for the small things in life which we take for granted. I have many times thought the in today’s time values don’t matter. Wrong. Values, how you conduct yourself in life and how you treat others does matter for they form real human connections that are not broken easily. I have learned to be hopeful, even in tense times and remain optimistic.

I am thankful for everything in life.