Qatar’s neighbors are angry with the government, but citizens pay the price
When people are stockpiling groceries, you know things aren’t looking good
Five Arab states have ‘cut diplomatic relations’ with Qatar. Which basically means telling your businesses to stop selling goods to the country, calling your diplomats to come back, and giving all their citizens living in your country 14 days to up and leave.
It’s pretty intense. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), one of the five countries involved, has said that any citizen who ‘shows sympathy’ with Qatar could be jailed for up to 15 years and fined 500,000 dirhams ($136,000).
The whole thing started when Qatari news sites were blocked by Saudi Arabia and UAE after they allegedly broadcast comments from Qatar’s ruler in support of Iran. Apparently that’s not allowed, and the two countries said it was the last straw on top of Qatar’s alliances with not only Iran but also various groups which Saudi and UAE say fuel ‘Islamist extremism’.
(If you’ve never really read into Middle Eastern politics before, this is Middle Eastern politics. It’s complicated.)
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, and one of Libya’s three rival governments (told you it was complicated – war broke out there a few years ago and they haven't been able to settle on a government since) all joined in to publicly ‘cut ties’ with Qatar. “The decisions that were made were very strong and will have a fairly large cost,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said. “We do not believe that Qataris want to sustain those costs.”
‘Fairly large’ is a serious understatement to describe what this means for Qataris - most of whom probably have next to nothing to do with the decisions the government is making to anger their neighbors (Qatar isn’t a democracy.) The costs are more than just financial: this is costing them freedom, security, and for those who have to leave a place they've made their home, their entire livelihoods.
Photos of long lines, empty shelves at Carrefour grocery stores in #Qatar following crisis. Qatar gets 40% of food supply by road via Saudi pic.twitter.com/rkC6IPydS1
Qatar’s economy basically works like this: dig up loads of petroleum and gas, sell it to other countries, make lots of money, buy food and manufactured goods from other countries to sell to your people.
About 80 per cent of food in Qatar is bought from its Arab neighbors, and 40 per cent of imports are transported via the border with Saudi Arabia. So if its neighbors shut it off, Qataris are left with next to nothing - hence the mad supermarket rushes this week.
This kind of stockpiling of goods has happened before, generally when an economic crisis kicks off or a war is about to happen. But almost every time, it leads to
- when too much money is chasing too little stuff so prices go up in an attempt to control the demand.
No-one really knows what’s going to happen next. But if they don’t figure something out soon, Qataris will pay the price for living in a natural resource-dependent economy with one, angry neighbor - and it’s not going to be cheap.