With Saudi-Qatar diplomatic ties cut, and airspace closed, Qatar Airways asks ICAO to step in
In early June, a longstanding war of words between Saudi Arabia and its oil and gas-rich neighbour Qatar has got worse. Saudi Arabia and three of its biggest allies — Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — all announced that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, as well as suspending air, land, and sea travel to and from the country. The move came after Riyadh accused Qatar of backing radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Since then, Libya, Yemen, and the Maldives have also joined the diplomatic boycott. Qatar owns 20% of Heathrow, and its funding would be needed to pay for the 3rd runway. Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries on earth, but it’s going to feel the pain all the same because it relies heavily on its neighbours for trade and travel in and out of the region. The peninsular nation imports most of its food through its land border with Saudi, which is now closed. Now Qatar Airways CEO, Akbar Al Baker, has called on ICAO to step in to the diplomatic rift that has closed Saudi airspace, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt airspace to Qatar Airways. This has not only halted air traffic between Qatar and the four Gulf states, but also is forcing Qatar Airways to fly longer distances on some long-haul routes.
Qatar Airways CEO Al Baker asks ICAO to step in
Jun 14, 2017
By Aaron Karp (ATW online)
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has called on ICAO to step in to the diplomatic rift between Qatar and the Gulf states that have closed their airspace to Qatar Airways.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt last week cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, cutting off all flights from Qatar and disallowing Qatar Airways from using their airspace. The move not only halted air traffic between Qatar and the four Gulf states, but also is forcing Qatar Airways to fly longer distances on some long-haul routes to avoid those countries’ airspace.
“This blockade is unprecedented and it is in direct contradiction to the convention that guarantees rights to civil overflight,” Al Baker said in a June 14 statement. “We call upon the International Civil Aviation Organization to declare this an illegal act. We are not a political body, we are an airline, and this blockade has stripped us of the rights which are guaranteed to us.”
Nevertheless, Al Baker said it is “business as usual” for state-owned Qatar Airways “with the vast majority of flights operating as scheduled.”
In the last week, while the restrictions have been in place, Qatar Airways has operated 1,200 flights between Doha and more than 150 destinations “with 90% of those flights departing within 15 minutes of their scheduled departure time,” Qatar Airways said.
The airline has said it will focus on expansion to other parts of the world. This week it launched Doha-Dublin service, and it will start flights between Doha and Nice, France July 4. Doha-Skopje, Macedonia flights are scheduled to commence July 17.
Qatar Airways is not shying away from its usual strong presence at the Paris Air Show, where next week its new “QSuite” business-class offering will be showcased.
Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic war with Qatar, explained
Why seven countries severed ties with Qatar in a matter of hours.
Updated by Zeeshan Aleem (Vox.com)
June 6, 2017
A longstanding war of words between Saudi Arabia and its oil and gas-rich neighbor Qatar has just exploded into open diplomatic warfare, threatening the US-led fight against ISIS and setting off a new wave of instability in the Gulf region.
Here’s what happened: On Monday, Saudi Arabia and three of its biggest allies — Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — all announced that they were severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, as well as suspending air, land, and sea travel to and from the country. The move came after Riyadh accused Qatar of backing radical Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Since then, Libya, Yemen, and the Maldives have also joined the diplomatic boycott.
Qatar is one of the wealthiest countries on earth, but it’s going to feel the pain all the same because it relies heavily on its neighbors for trade and travel in and out of the region. The peninsular nation imports most of its food through its land border with Saudi, which is now closed. Al Jazeera, a Qatar government-owned news network, has reported that trucks carrying food appear to be stranded on the Saudi side of the border. And in Doha, the capital of Qatar, people are already “stockpiling perishable goods,” according to Jassim Mater Kunji, a producer for Al Jazeera English. Many ships carrying food to Doha first stop in the UAE’s biggest cities, Dubai and Abu Dhabi; it’s unclear what effect the new bans will have on their movements.
Tensions between Qatar and its neighbors skyrocketed last month after Qatar’s state-run news agency published an article in which the Qatar’s ruling emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, was quoted praising Israel and Iran — Saudi Arabia’s biggest adversaries in the region. Qatar swiftly disavowed the article as fake news manufactured by hackers, but Saudi and its friends were unconvinced. Then Sheikh Tamim made things even worse when a few days later he called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his reelection — a clear act of defiance against Saudi’s hawkish stance on Iran.
The new rift in the Persian Gulf is in and of itself a big deal — it’s already being interpreted by some observers as the biggest diplomatic crisis in the region since the Gulf War in 1991.
But the consequences will ripple beyond the region’s internal politics and seriously imperil US military operations in the region. Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command, which manages all military operations in Afghanistan and the Middle East. And the air war command for the US-led fight against ISIS operates out of Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. All in all, there are around 11,000 US military personnel in the country.
As the New York Times notes, it’s obvious that an American-led campaign that includes aircraft from the countries severing ties with Qatar will be harder to wage if those countries refuse to allow their military representatives to even visit the American base there.
….. and it continues at length.
Qatar crisis: how the world’s richest nation ended up in a desert storm amid claims it bankrolls extremists
James Ashton reports on the fresh crisis brewing for the world’s richest nation — and London’s largest landowner
It was seized on as a major plus in the days before Theresa May formally notified the European Union of the UK’s intention to leave. A £5 billion investment pledge that showed the nation remained open for business. The cash was a big gesture for Britain but chump change for Qatar, the wealthy Gulf state that has already ploughed £40 billion into a Monopoly board of trophy UK assets. What would it buy next to sit alongside the quintessential luxury of Claridge’s or the gleaming Canary Wharf tower?
“I am still looking — even after Brexit there will be opportunities QIA [Qatar Investment Authority] can really hunt for,” said Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Thani, chief executive of the Gulf state’s £250 billion sovereign wealth fund. “Whenever the [British] government would like the QIA to step in we are ready.” Fast-forward two months and the focus is less on its overseas investments and more on a severe domestic crisis. Since Monday, when its near neighbours Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain said they were severing all ties, the Qatari currency has slumped and panicked residents have dashed to change their money into dollars.
The world’s richest nation on a per capita basis — and perhaps, ironically, a large shareholder in Sainsbury’s — is falling back on emergency measures to keep supermarket shelves stocked. If sanctions bite, what will happen to Qatar at home — and to the billions it has invested abroad, especially in London?
It is a rare setback for this speck of a nation, half the size of Wales. Qatar may be small, with far less in its main sovereign wealth fund than Abu Dhabi, but over the past decade it has announced itself on the world stage — and in the capital — with a string of flashy acquisitions. There is Harrods, The Shard, the HSBC Tower and The Connaught, and then stakes in the London Stock Exchange, Barclays, Heathrow Airport and British Airways owner IAG. It might even have bought Formula 1 if the stars had been aligned.
Call it a strategy or a spending spree, the plan devised by the ruling al-Thani family has brought it good headlines and built influence. Qatar has invested its riches wisely in preparation for the day its plentiful natural gas resources run out. But the country’s reputation has been dogged by claims that it supports Islamic extremists, something it strenuously denies.
Reports suggest Saudi Arabia and its partners cut transport and trade links after a $1 billion kidnap bounty the state stumped up to secure the release of a royal falconry party went to an al Qaeda affiliate.
Such allegations have taken the sheen off Qatar’s international standing, but have never blocked trade. In 2014 the Obama administration warned that Qatar and Kuwait remained fertile ground for terrorist financiers. That ratcheted up pressure on then prime minister David Cameron to press the emir on a trip to London to cut off the flow of funds.
Until this week there was little sign of this happening. Qatar is a crucial gas supplier to the UK. It was controversially awarded the 2022 World Cup tournament and has engaged British engineers to help it construct air-conditioned football stadiums. It intends to use the event to build its reputation as a tourist destination and long-haul stopover.
It spreads the word via the state-funded 24-hour global news channel al-Jazeera, regarded by others in the Gulf region as an irritant. Qatar’s ruling family are cultured — consolidating a love of horse racing by becoming the first commercial sponsor of Royal Ascot — and maverick, as seen by the abdication of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 2013 in favour of his 33-year-old son Tamim.
However well-drilled they are, experts fear the dispute will weigh on Qatar’s economy. Its stock market has plunged 10 per cent in value and credit rating agency S&P has cut Qatar’s creditworthiness to below that of the UK. It is heavily reliant on imports so cutting off road links through Saudi Arabia will be costly, as will denying it goods from Dubai’s Jebel Ali container port. At least Qatar Airways has its own cargo line, operated from Doha’s lavish $16 billion international airport, which opened in 2014.
There is no sense this crisis will be over quickly. Some fear the worst lurch towards instability in the region since Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, prompting the first Gulf War.
Some financial economists have interpreted the 2014 Saudi–Qatari rift as the tangible political sign of a growing economic rivalry between oil and natural gas producers, which could “have deep and long-lasting consequences” beyond the Middle East-North Africa area.
On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia had officially cut ties with Qatar. Saudi Arabia said it took the decision to cut diplomatic ties due to Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilising the region”, including the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaida, Islamic State, and groups supported by Iran in the kingdom’s eastern province of Qatif.
Islam Hassan argues that: “Starting from 2000 and ahead, Qatar has been pursuing an independent foreign policy that at times clash with the Saudi strategic interests in the region. The fact that Qatar has not been toeing the Saudi foreign policy, and dealing with states and non-state actors that the Saudis do not approve of have caused this tension in relations over the past couple of years, mainly after the Arab uprisings.
“This tension was revived by the hacking saga of Qatar News Agency and the statement that was attributed to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad, which Qatar falsified later. This happened at a time Mohamed bin Salman is facing competition from Mohamed bin Nayef over the Saudi throne. Mohamed bin Salman tried to have the US blessing during Trump’s visit to Saudi to force Qatar to its knees, and go back home with a win that would give him more popularity in Saudi Arabia, easing his journey to power.”
The dangerous power game playing out in the Gulf, where Saudi Arabia and its allies are blockading the minuscule but rich and ambitious emirate of Qatar in an aggressive bid to stifle its maverick policies, is setting off alarm bells around the world — except at the White House, where President Donald Trump tweets support for the Saudis, in the ostensible belief their action strikes a decisive blow against jihadi extremism.
The young emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, aged 37 and in power for four years, is certainly in a hole. Last month’s summit in Riyadh, at which Mr Trump did deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars in trade, investment and arms with the Saudis while inciting them to lead a Sunni jihad against Shia Iran, seems to have emboldened the Saudi camp to move against Qatar. Yet Mohammed bin Salman, the 31-year-old deputy crown prince, handed the keys to the Saudi kingdom in 2015 by his father, the ageing King Salman, may also be digging himself a hole. But first Qatar.
Riyadh is angry that Qatar keeps lines open to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s bitter rival for regional hegemony. This charge is convenient and timely in light of Mr Trump’s bellicosity towards Iran. But it is not the most serious one; Oman and, to a degree, Kuwait, also have good contacts with Tehran. In Qatar’s case, the Saudis, echoed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, elide the taint of ties with Iran to alleged Qatari support for Sunni religious extremists — enemies of the Shia theocrats as last week’s jihadist attacks in Tehran violently underlined.
The majority in Saudi Arabia are Sunni muslims. The majority in Iran are Shia.
How much will Heathrow will depend on its owner Qatar, paying up? Qatar Investment Authority owns 20% of Heathrow.
Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited is in turn owned by FGP Topco Limited, a consortium owned and led by the infrastructure specialist Ferrovial S.A. (25.00%), Qatar Investment Authority (20.00%), Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) (12.62%), GIC (11.20%), Alinda Capital Partners of the United States (11.18%), China Investment Corporation (10.00%) and Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) (10.00%).