A year ago, on June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain imposed an economic and political blockade on the State of Qatar in a bid for regional dominance. The blockade implied a flagrant breach of human rights, tearing apart families, interrupting professional and academic careers, and limiting access to medical care, even for the sick.
The Holy month of Ramadan, during which families traditionally come together to celebrate, is a painful reminder of the great harm and pain that has been caused by the blockade.
The blockading countries have made several false allegations during the last year, in an attempt to justify their illegal actions, claiming that Qatar was supporting terrorism.
Qatar has never supported terrorism. Our country is a partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh (ISIS) and a leader in counterterrorism efforts through – for example – Al Udeid air base, from which Coalition planes take off daily to combat terrorist groups.
Ignoring these facts, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have tried to weaken our country by setting up a dirty campaign of cyber-attacks, bribery, coercion and propaganda.
This strategy has failed. In the past year, Qatar has become a stronger country that is looking towards the future. The blockade has catalyzed the acceleration of various economic, political and social policy changes.
Qatar has been opening new trade and maritime routes and identified new promising markets :
· New maritime routes were launched through the recently opened Hamad Port to many countries including India, Pakistan, Oman and Turkey. Bypassing Jebel Ali port in the UAE, shipping costs have fallen by 31 % since the embargo was imposed;
· Qatar has singled out South Asia as a new promising market for the export of liquefied natural gas, including a new agreement for exporting LNG to Bangladesh over the next 15 years;
· The restrictions in airspace forced upon Qatar by its neighbours have led to the creation of new trade routes. Food suppliers from India used to make stopovers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE before continuing to Qatar are now shipping their products directly to us. This reduces costs and increases time efficiency in the long run.
· Qatar Airways is also thriving despite the blockade, expanding into highly profitable markets and currently even adding 24 new markets.
Our country has pursued a strategy of economic diversification. Most notably, the quest for self-sufficiency has been a shared ambition for all residents of Qatar. As a first step, Qatar will soon be able to fully rely on its own dairy production.
We are opening up to foreign investment, support tech start-ups and have created new economic zones. The International Monetary Fund has praised Qatar and its economy for its strength and resilience.
The blockade has also allowed us to accelerate policies we have long been working towards, including those related to our labour system. Backed by the International Labour Organization, we have introduced new laws that provide greater protection and freedom to our workers and expat community, and are, in this regard, a model for the region.
The attempts to isolate Qatar failed. Instead, we have strengthened our diplomatic ties with our international partners, including our friends in Europe. The Head of the EU Delegation to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, Michele Cervone D’Urso, has indeed stated that Qatar is increasingly considered as a strategic partner for the European Union, and Qatar has recently made considerable multi-billion investments in the EU.
The stronger ties between the European Union and Qatar have in turn significantly boosted our trade relations.
During the fourth quarter of 2017, the EU was one of the top destinations of my country’s exports, with 10%, whilst 25.9% of our imports originated from the EU. According to Mr Cervone d’Urso, the potential for further investment is even greater.
Qatar is the EU’s most reliable energy supplier. We have always honoured our engagements and contracts and have never missed a shipment of LNG, even after the illegal blockade was imposed. Almost a quarter of Qatar’s total LNG exports go to the EU, and Qatar provides 6% of the EU’s demand for LNG.
We are truly grateful for the repeated calls from High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Dialogue is of utmost importance to establish unity and stability in the Gulf.
At the Munich Security Conference last February, His Highness the Amir of Qatar praised the European Union for the role it plays in working towards the peaceful resolution of disputes between European nations. The EU demonstrates that a union can establish shared security, stability and strong transnational cooperation amongst its members, which Qatar strongly admires and hopes could be emulated in our region.
The economic, social and political progress Qatar has made during the last 12 months shows that small states can use diplomacy and strategic economic planning to weather the baseless storms of aggression from ambitious neighbours.
Preserving the sovereignty and independent decision making of states guarantees the freedom of speech and free media. Shutting down the Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera – as the blockading countries request – would obviously be a grave incursion into Qatar’s respect for freedom of speech.
The last year has been testing for Qatar, but our people have emerged stronger than before and continue to build a prosperous, successful and peaceful future.