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US President Donald Trump

Updated to reflect that there is no longer a ban on OFWs traveling to Qatar from the Philippines.

US President Donald Trump approves of the recent action taken against Qatar by its Gulf neighbors, and actually appears to have taken credit for it.

In a series of tweets yesterday, Trump said his recent visit to Saudi Arabia is “already paying off” in terms of fighting “the horror of terrorism.”

“Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” he added.

The statements came from his personal account, not his presidential one. It remains unclear whether they represent the US government’s stance, as Qatar is a longtime ally.

Contradiction

If it does, the remarks would be an about-face from the supportive tone taken by diplomats and the US Secretary of State just a day earlier.

Cognizant of the fact that Qatar hosts its largest air base in the region, these parties urged a swift resolution to the Gulf dispute.

U.S. Air Force

A dozen 2,000-pound joint direct attack munitions sit inside a warehouse at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. The bombs were built by hand by airmen from the 379th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron’s Munitions Flight.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon declined to comment on the tweets, but said that the US military is grateful for Qatar’s support.

And officials said earlier this week that air campaigns in Syria and Iraq against ISIL would continue to be carried out from the Al Udeid base.

Closed borders

On Monday, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE announced the severance of diplomatic ties with Qatar, something they also did in 2014.

But in an unprecedented move, they ordered Qatari citizens to leave their countries within two weeks.

QNA

For illustrative purposes only.

Additionally, the nations barred their own citizens from visiting Qatar, and have closed off air, land and sea borders to the nation.

Egypt, Yemen and the Maldives have also entered the dispute. They have sided with Saudi Arabia and the others, who say Qatar is fomenting instability in the region by supporting terrorism.

Qatari officials have dismissed these claims repeatedly.

Speaking to CNN yesterday, Qatar’s foreign minister said his nation has actually been working to protect the world from potential terrorists.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said:

“We are promoting for peace, we are promoting for open diplomacy, we are promoting for dialogue. Qatar is promoting for education, we are creating jobs for the people in the Middle East. We are giving them better hope, we are replacing the weapons with pens when we are educating young children in the refugee camps.”

He added that the entire dispute was ignited after QNA was hacked last month.

At the time, inflammatory statements attributed to the Emir upset many in the Gulf. Though officials debunked these as made-up, the GCC states don’t appear to believe this.

FBI officials are helping Qatar investigate the incident and suggested yesterday that Russian hackers may have been involved. It remains unclear whether they were state-sponsored.

Spiraling crisis

Despite Qatar’s foreign minister saying “Right now it’s business as usual,” the crisis continued to spiral yesterday. In addition to Trump’s tweets, key developments include:

Qatar Airways closed down in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain

Both nations have revoked the national carrier’s license to operate and ordered it offices closed within 48 hours, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Qatar Airways/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Bahrain’s news agency added that passengers who have tickets to or from Qatar arrange for a refund from the airline as soon as possible.

For its part, Qatar Airways says it is operating its routes as normal, except that flights to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have been suspended until further notice.

That amounts to more than 30 canceled Qatar Airways flights to and from Doha, as well as a several more from Gulf carriers.

The Philippines barred workers from going to Qatar (but then changed its mind)

Officials said this was a precaution, but the move had been criticized by many OFWs in Qatar as an overreaction.

3dom/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Speaking to media yesterday, Labor chief Silvestre Bello had said:

“We are foreseeing a possible problem in Qatar. For example, we know for a fact that Qatar does not produce its own food. If anything happens that they run out of food and food riots will take place, definitely our OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers)… will be the first victims,” he said.

Jordan partially cuts off ties with Qatar

Jordan officials said they are downgrading relations with Qatar for the sake of “regional stability.”

Paul Keller/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Jordan also revoked Al Jazeera’s license to operate in the country. Saudi Arabia did this a few days ago, and the channel continues to be blocked in the UAE as well.

Thoughts?

Lesley Walker / Doha News

US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith at the election results reception

US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith raised eyebrows this week after posting a tweet that appeared to criticize President Donald Trump and his government.

Smith, a career diplomat who began her Doha post in 2014, tweeted that it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to explain US democracy and institutions to others.

The post came just a few hours after news broke that Trump had fired FBI director James Comey. The FBI had been investigating potential ties between Trump’s 2016 campaign team and Russian officials.

The US Embassy has not yet responded to a request for comment about the tweet.

But the message has gotten nearly 10,000 likes on Twitter. However, it also drew criticism from people who said it was inappropriate for diplomats to criticize the president.

In apparent response to the backlash, Smith explained the next day that she is regularly called upon “to explain and defend” her nation’s political system.

She added that this is particularly difficult “when partisan acrimony is so high.”

A career diplomat

Shortly after Trump was sworn in as president in January, he fired all US Ambassadors who had been directly appointed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

MOFA

Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al Meraikhi with US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith.

However, Smith remained in her post, as she was not a political appointment.

At the time, the US Embassy in Qatar told Doha News that as such, Smith “looked forward to continuing her service to the United States as Ambassador to Qatar under the next Administration.”

Strong ties

Many in the US and internationally were shocked when Trump won the election in November, instead of his opponent Hillary Clinton.

At the time, the US Embassy held an early breakfast reception at the W Doha to watch the results coming in.

Donald J. Trump/Facebook

US President Donald Trump

Smith wore a cream-colored pant suit – a possible nod to Clinton’s outfit of choice – and sought to reassure people about Qatar-US ties, saying:

“Our relationship is strong today and will continue to be after our next president is inaugurated.”

Smith is fluent in Arabic and has served in the UAE, Jordan, Israel, the Gaza Strip, Egypt and Taiwan during her time with the US State Department.

Thoughts?

Ameer Abdul Razak/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Qatar is likely to remain one of region’s most stable economies in the coming years due to its strong economy, top-heavy governance and politically inactive population, a new report has found.

According to BMI Research, the government’s ability “to provide its citizens with generous subsidies and economic opportunities” is a main reason for the stability.

However, Qatar has implemented some austerity measures in recent years due to lower oil prices and budget deficits.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only

But when asked about actions such as rising utility and gas prices, BMI told Doha News that these were “unlikely” to have a negative effect on stability.

Andrine Skjelland, MENA Country Risk Analyst at BMI, said:

“The scope of fiscal consolidation remains limited, and the overall impact on Qatari citizens’ living standards will be minimal.

In any case, we believe the government would be quick to scale back measures at first signs of significant popular discontent, preventing unrest from spreading.”

However, BMI’s report noted that political involvement from Qatari citizens is expected to remain “minimal.” Additionally, it forecast that foreign workers will continue to be subject to “heavy restrictions.”

It added that national policies will continue to be shaped by “a small group of elite decision makers” who face few constraints, “in turn ensuring broad policy continuity.”

Trump effect

BMI was also optimistic in terms of the big picture. For example, it asserted that Qatar’s diplomatic ties with the US will remain strong.

This is despite Donald Trump’s presidency and his views on radical Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Donald J. Trump/Facebook

US President Donald Trump

The report concluded that the continued US military presence at the Al Udeid air base and deep economic ties between the two countries will outweigh other US foreign policy concerns.

BMI’s experts added that a softer focus on human rights by the US would likely work in Qatar’s favor.

“Compared with the previous administration, we expect the US government under Trump to focus less on human rights issues and the spread of democracy in its foreign policy – a trend that will likely be welcomed in Doha, as it limits the potential for external pressure on it to implement political and social reforms.”

Muslim Brotherhood links

Trump’s team is also currently debating whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

This move could strain diplomatic relations between the US and Qatar, whose support of the group in Egypt has caused past conflict with its neighbors.

European External Action Service

Deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi

However, BMI asserted that Qatar’s ability to act as a peace-broker in the region, coupled with financial and military concerns, guarantee that the two countries won’t fall out over the issue.

“Doha’s ties to a broad range of state and non-state actors mean it is still considered a facilitator of MENA negotiations in Washington,” the report stated.

“The two countries also have deep trade links, particularly in the energy sector, and Doha has announced plans to invest $45bn in the US over the next five years.”

BMI added that Qatar would likely yield to US pressure over its Muslim Brotherhood ties if required to do so.

This is because relations with the US and other GCC countries are becoming increasingly important amid regional instability, according to the report’s authors.

Thoughts?