The announcement that six countries have now severed diplomatic ties could lead to food shortages in Qatar, analysts have warned. Qatar imports approximately 90% of its food, with 40% of it coming solely from Saudi Arabia. ‘There will be shortages of food, certain things will be hard to find,’ Christian Henderson, a Middle Eastern food expert at SOAS University in London, told Gulf News.
Dairy, meat and vegetables are expected to be heavily impacted. Qatar is dependent on the UAE and Saudi Arabia for its white sugar imports, which are estimated at less than 100,000 tonnes annually. Consumption is higher during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is currently being observed. Photos on social media have shown Qatar residents queuing up at grocery stores and emptying shelves.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have given all Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their territory.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the cutting of ties would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers, though the airline suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia on Monday.
Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Etihad Airways said it would suspend all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice.
Etihad, which operates four return flights to Doha daily, said the measure will be in place ‘until further notice’.
Other carriers from the three Gulf countries are likely to announce similar measures.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have also stopped exports of white sugar to Qatar, in the first sign that the diplomatic crisis is hitting food trade, trade sources said on Monday.
Muslim Brotherhood groups allied to Doha are now mostly on the backfoot in the region, especially after a 2013 military takeover in Egypt ousted the elected Islamist president.
The crisis also comes after US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia for a summit with Arab leaders. Since the meeting, unrest in the region has grown. In a speech in Riyadh last month, Trump urged Muslim leaders from the Gulf and further afield to ‘drive out’ extremists and ‘terrorists’.
Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen.
Qatar is also home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It wasn’t clear if the decision would affect American military operations. Central Command officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bahrain blamed Qatar’s ‘media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain’ for its decision. Other countries issued similar statements. ‘(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,’ the Saudi state news agency SPA said.
Some Egyptian banks halted dealings with Qatari banks on Monday, four Cairo-based bankers said. Egypt’s action, announced in the early hours of Monday, was coordinated with similar moves by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Egypt did not say if the measure includes a halting of trade with Qatar, and the Trade Ministry did not immediately respond to questions on this. The four bankers said the halting of transactions with Qatari banks came on internal orders from management at their banks, and excludes the opening of letters of credit required for imports.
Some banks have stopped accepting Qatari currency while others are halting some treasury transactions, the bankers said.
There had been no official communication to banks from the Central Bank of Egypt on the split, the bankers said, and the central bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Bankers at three other lenders said they had not received any orders and that it was business as usual so far.
Yemen’s internationally recognised government cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of working with its enemies in the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, state news agency Saba reported. ‘Qatar’s practices of dealing with the (Houthi) coup militas and supporting extremist groups became clear,’ the government said in a statement.
It added that Yemen supported a decision by a Saudi-led coalition fighting for more than two years to oust the Houthis from the capital Sanaa to remove Qatar from its ranks announced earlier on Monday.
The Maldives said later on Monday it was severing diplomatic ties with Qatar.
‘The Maldives took the decision because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism,’ the government of the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago nation said in a statement.
Despite its reputation as a tourist paradise, the largely Muslim Maldives is struggling with a large number of youths enlisting to fight for Islamic State in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman had been due to visit the island chain of 400,000 people on a month-long tour of Asia this year, but postponed the trip due to an outbreak of flu there.
The Maldives government said in March a planned multi-billion dollar, Saudi-funded investment project on one of its atolls would focus on high-end tourism, and rejected opposition claims that the islands would be sold to the government of Saudi Arabia.
Libya’s eastern-based government has followed regional allies in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, its foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, said on Monday. The eastern-based government’s announcement came after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.
Iran called on Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states to resolve disputes through diplomacy and said any heightened tension would not help to resolve the crisis in the Middle East, state TV said on Monday. Iran has had no diplomatic ties with most of the mainly Sunni Gulf states since 2016, when Arab nations followed Saudi Arabia in severing relations after protesters torched its missions in the Islamic republic.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday he was saddened by a rift between Qatar and other Arab states, and called for dialogue to resolve the dispute.
Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the US-based Baker Institute, said if Qatar’s land borders and air space were closed for any length of time ‘it would wreak havoc on the timeline and delivery’ of the World Cup.
Oil prices rose after the moves against Qatar, which is the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a major seller of condensate – a low-density liquid fuel and refining product derived from natural gas.