Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain have moved beyond acceptable limits and Qatar will not forget this blockade soon. A feeling of near permanent hatred has been planted, writes N S Venkataraman for South Asia Monitor
The move by Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and UAE to impose an economic and civil blockade against Qatar, to settle scores and perhaps, satisfy their egos, left observers aghast. The four nations justified the blockade by claiming that Qatar has been supporting Islamist terrorist groups like al Queda, Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh, and has been courting Iran.
The UAE has tightened the squeeze on Qatar, threatening anyone publishing any expression of sympathy towards the state with up to 15 years of imprisonment.
While one can understand objections to support for terrorist groups, if present there, how do they object to friendly relations with a sovereign country like Iran?
A careful observer would think that such steps by Saudi Arabia and three others against Qatar amount to ‘biting one’s nose to spite the face’. This is a flawed strategy, devoid of any appreciation of global trade and economic compulsions and mutual dependence of countries in the West Asian region.
This also exposes the fact that the countries that imposed economic blockade on Qatar have not carefully assessed their strength and weakness and the vulnerable situation they face.
Who is not guilty of harbouring terrorists?
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and UAE have accused Qatar of harbouring terrorist groups.
Until recently, USA has been accusing both Saudi Arabia and Qatar of supporting, even promoting terrorism.
In recent years, there have been complaints against Saudi Arabia and some other countries in the region for providing funds and support to Islamist groups, which have enabled several terrorist groups to launch attacks on Jammu & Kashmir in India, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia has a running conflict with Iran, which it accuses of supporting secessionist forces. Iran itself was recently attacked by IS terrorists who bombed some prime targets, including Iran’s Parliament.
Pakistan has suffered severe terrorist attacks in recent months, but Pakistan itself is suspected of accommodating several lethal terrorist groups.
The isolation of Qatar would result in disruption of supply of products like polymers from Qatar. It would also hit Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Qatar produces around 2 million metric tonnes of polyethylene annually, accounting for over 2% of worldwide supply. The country’s three polyethylene producers—Qapco, Qatofin, and Q-Chem—export a combined 85,000 to 90,000 metric tonnes of polyethylene per year to Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. With the blockade, these export volumes will be hit. Termination of imports from Qatar will compel these countries to seek alternative sources of supply.
A large portion of Qatar’s polymer exports are transhipped at the port of Jebel Ali, UAE. The Dubai-controlled port has continued to ship Iranian polymers through many political crises and it will suffer severely in case of exports from Qatar being blocked.
The blockade would badly hurt international trade in petrochemicals and polymers, particularly when the dispute escalates to a complete shipping blockade on Qatar, which accounts for a large share of global trade, as most of its output is exported.
Such steps against Qatari ports would halt the export of petrochemicals and polymers, severely disrupting the supply-demand balance of several products globally and increase spot prices.
The blockade would badly hit the international market for vinyls, methanol, and methyl tert-butyl ether. Qatari producers export 300,000 metric tonnes of vinyl chloride monomer, 150,000 metric tonnes of ethylene dichloride and 250,000 metric tonnes of caustic soda every year. India, which imports natural gas from Qatar, would be severely affected.
Workers from around the world, who work in Qatar, would lose their jobs.
With levels of inter-dependence between countries so high, no single country can act adversely against another country without suffering consequences.
All the West Asian countries are heavily dependent on each other for varieties of needs. They need to co ordinate their efforts to get their due place in the global market and exercise appropriate influence around the world.
While West Asian countries have enormous oil and gas resources, which they largely export, they have also set up large petro-based derivative products. What is conspicuous is that West Asian states, including Qatar, are heavily dependent on multi-national companies for technology support and operating those plants, which are often joint ventures.
Multi-national companies operating in the region seek to export their products around the world. The blockade of Qatar would hurt their marketing plans.
By such a counter-productive conflict among themselves, they would only strengthen the market base and economy for other countries like China and USA, which may undo the advantages that West Asian countries now enjoy.
It is in the world’s interest that terrorist activities be stopped forthwith and terrorists groups, whatever their ideology, be wiped out.
If any country encourages terrorists, then it behoves the rest of the world to join to make such countries behave, through United Nations. Unilateral action, like that initiated by the four countries against Qatar,cause suspicion and misgivings.
Being driven to the wall, isolated Qatar would have to talk with Turkey, Iran and others to secure food and water supplies. In the process, West Asia would be further divided, not serving the interest of any regional country.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain have moved beyond acceptable limits and Qatar will not forget this blockade soon. A feeling of near permanent hatred has been planted.
(The author is with ‘Nandini’ Voice for the Deprived. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to email@example.com)