How Qatar Weathered the Gulf Crisis

Putting Pressure on Doha Didn't Work

Military helicopters flying over Doha during Qatar National Day, 2015 Naseem Zeitoon / Reuters

In June 2017, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and instituted an economic and trade embargo that closed Qatar’s only land border and heavily restricted the sea and airspace open to Qatar-bound traffic. This was not the first time that frustration over Qatar’s distinctive foreign policy had led to a crisis. In 2014, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, angered by the country’s post–Arab Spring policies such as its perceived support for the Islamist movements. Although this disagreement was settled nine months later, the Qatari leadership learned a lesson: it could happen again.

The embargo nevertheless caught most regional and international observers off balance. And just one day after the it was announced, U.S. President Donald Trump shocked both Doha and his own secretaries of state and defense by issuing a series of tweets that backed the move and suggested that Qatar supported extremism. Qatar, like many small Gulf states, has a defense and security posture that depends on its partnership with the United States. In the face of intense pressure from larger and more conventionally powerful countries, Qatar appeared to be overmatched.

One year later, however, it seems that Qatar has outplayed its rivals. The 2014 crisis taught Doha the importance of developing contingency plans. In response to the most recent regional power play and Trump’s unexpected decision to support the blockade, Qatar accelerated efforts to diversify its economy, broaden its international partnerships, and reduce its vulnerability to external shocks. Although the embargo is still in place, Qatar has proved more resilient than most people anticipated.


For decades, heavily interlinked social and commercial ties have bound the Gulf states together. One of the most immediate impacts of this crisis was to disrupt these long-established connections. Before the blockade, up to four-fifths of food imports entered Qatar either directly across the land border with Saudi Arabia or indirectly through shipping routes that ran through Emirati

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