Updated: Sep 18
World News Editor
The Middle East is a land of vast deserts, gushing oil, and occasional conflict. While these disputes often come from terrorist groups sowing fear, sometimes the Persian Gulf States of the Middle East create conflicts between each other. One such example is between Saudi Arabia, the largest and most powerful country of the Gulf States, and Qatar, one of the smaller but more gas-rich countries. After more than three years of conflict, the two countries ended their dispute amicably. But to understand the importance and impacts of this sudden resolution, we first need to look at how it started and what happened.
The conflict started on Thursday, July 27th, 2017, when Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud (a.k.a. MBS), the Crown Prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, announced that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates had broken off relations with Qatar, in what CNN called “the worst diplomatic crisis to hit Gulf Arab states in decades.” This stunning move, according to MBS, was due to allegations that Qatar was funding terrorist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, intentionally destabilizing the region. Additionally, political differences festered over long-time Saudi enemy Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist organization that advocates for the use of Islamic law in all aspects of society. Another important factor was Saudi rage over the Qatar-based news source Al-Jazeera, which they claimed was spreading lies about, and slandering, important Saudis, such as MBS. Qatar furiously denied these allegations and refused the demand to shut down Al Jazeera, stating that these claims were “unjustified and baseless’’ according to CNN. In response, all flights in and out of Qatar were suspended, Qatari citizens were given 14 days to leave the UAE, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, citizens from those countries were banned from entering Qatar, and Saudi Arabia closed its land border with Qatar, the only border that Qatar had with another country. Early on, Saudi Arabia actually considered building a trench around Qatar to make it an island, thus literally cutting it off from the mainland.
These moves received much international condemnation, especially from allies of the affected countries. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed the situation with each other, and both called for the countries to establish diplomatic talks to bring an end to the crisis. Then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the countries to “work out their differences,” offering US assistance if needed. This move was likely motivated by the fact that the largest concentration of US military personnel in the Middle East was located at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. These attempts by outside countries to end the conflict likely weren’t done solely out of a need for peace, but because of the Middle East’s prized natural resource: oil.
All those countries and many others rely on oil for multiple parts of their economy and daily use. Since the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, is extremely oil-rich, these countries rely on them to provide most of their oil. An all-out-war between these two oil-rich countries would send the global economy into a tailspin, as well as sparking both an international crisis and an internal Middle Eastern crisis. In addition, peace talks within the Middle East for other conflicts would come to a complete halt, as these two countries fighting would lead to their neighbors wading into the fight as well. The end result would likely be years-or-decades-long fallout, likely leading to the collapse of the important global oil economy. In addition, tiny Qatar would be annihilated by the much-larger Saudi Arabia, and as it holds multiple international military bases, powerful countries would have to enter the conflict, which could exacerbate it.
For four years, these fears and tensions continued, until everything changed.
On Tuesday, January 5th, the conflict ended in friendship in al-Ula, Saudi Arabia. as the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Qatar embraced each other in front of the plane that brought the Emir of Qatar to the city. The two leaders signed a treaty to formally end the conflict, stating that “whether it’s the returning of diplomatic relations, flights… all of that will go back to normal.” The countries have agreed to work together peacefully and cooperate better in the future. This agreement was encouraged by Kuwait, which remained neutral throughout the conflict, and former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who considers himself a friend of Saudi Arabia. The UAE’s Foreign Minister, Anwar Gargash, said that the summit marked the beginning of “a bright new page.” The new cooperation can signal to other countries that peace in the Middle East is possible, and not all conflict has to become a war. It might even show other countries that because of the tensions ever-present in the Middle East, oil is an unstable resource, leading them to seek a more stable energy source. It will be interesting to see how this new friendship will affect the region and world in general.