2022 Portfolios: Qatar Exports the Gulf Conflict, Bahrain Bears the Cost

2023-12-09 - 11:02 am

Bahrain Mirror (2022 Portfolios): For the second consecutive year, Qatar continued to disregard Bahrain's appeals for normalizing relations and ending the political dispute initiated by Manama years ago. Despite signing the Al-Ula Agreement in January 2021, the Qatari ruling family decided there was no need to repair relations with its smaller neighbor.

While the end of 2021 brought unfavorable news for Bahrain after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to Doha, 2022 continued to deliver bad news to the Al-Safriya Palace. Abu Dhabi ruler (the current president of the UAE), Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, met with the Qatari Emir on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Subsequent events unequivocally proved to the Al Khalifa family that Saudi Arabia and the UAE decided to normalize and develop relations with Qatar, ignoring Bahrain, which remained alone, paying the bill for the Gulf dispute and the Qatar boycott.

Qatar's Foreign Minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, downplayed the significance of the dispute with Bahrain, stating in a London seminar that it is "not as massive as portrayed," attributing it to the lack of agreement on dispute resolution mechanisms. However, he expressed optimism about Qatar's relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

However, a different turn of events occurred with the approach of the FIFA World Cup in Doha. Qatar canceled the office overseeing the construction of the "Bridge of Love," a project agreed upon in 2008, which was intended to be built between the two countries. According to the agreement, Qatar paid $350 million to Bahrain for the project, but Bahrain's delay led to its cancellation. With the closure of this office, Bahrain is now being asked to refund this amount to Qatar.

Additionally, as the World Cup approached, Qatar announced that Gulf airlines would operate over 180 daily flights to Qatar during the tournament. This arrangement involved airlines such as Flydubai, Oman Air, Kuwait Airways, and Saudia, with the possibility of Etihad and Arabia joining, excluding Bahrain from this Gulf agreement.

Bahrain, displeased with Qatar's disregard, attempted various ways to resolve the dispute and economically benefit from the World Cup. During President Joe Biden's visit to Jeddah to meet Gulf leaders in July, Bahrain took advantage of the occasion. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa visited the residence of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Shortly after the news and photos of the visit were published in the Bahraini press, Bahrain removed Qatar from the list of travel-restricted countries. However, Qatar treated the event with complete indifference, with no mention of the visit in Qatari news agencies or local newspapers.

Two weeks after the meeting, Bahrain's Foreign Minister, Abdullatif Al Zayani, spoke about the Qatari indifference. He stated that Bahrain had repeatedly invited Qatar for bilateral talks to settle outstanding issues, but Qatar had not responded to the invitations, in order to implement the Al-Ula Agreement.

Saudi Arabia used the World Cup event to prepare facilities to receive tourists. The area adjacent to the Salwa border point in Al-Ahsa was transformed into a tourist area. Hotels in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia experienced high occupancy rates as tourists sought more affordable accommodation options.

Similarly, the UAE witnessed high hotel occupancy rates, and Ahmed Ibrahim Al Jallaf, Assistant Director-General for Air Navigation Services at the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, announced a 360% increase in air traffic with Qatar during the World Cup.

However, Bahrain, feeling excluded from the World Cup due to its erratic policies, launched media campaigns through its less-read local newspapers targeting Qatar. It began broadcasting almost daily reports on labor rights in Qatar and human rights issues.

The World Cup took place, and all Gulf countries were represented by high-ranking officials. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman represented Saudi Arabia, while Dubai's ruler, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, represented the UAE. The Crown Prince Meshal Al-Ahmad represented Kuwait, and the Crown Prince Theyazin bin Al Haitham represented the Sultanate of Oman. Bahrain was conspicuously absent, with no representation.

On the following day, Bahraini newspapers decided to ignore the most prominent and widely watched sporting event globally. The Bahraini newspapers treated the event as if it never happened, and the four official newspapers (Al-Ayam, Al-Bilad, Al-Watan, and Akhbar Al-Khaleej) were devoid of any mention of the event that most of Bahrain's residents and citizens watched before others.

Bahrain's political adolescence and lack of professionalism persisted in dealing with the event. The Al-Ayam newspaper, owned by the King's media advisor Nabeel Al-Hamar, went so far as to publish a schedule of the Gulf Cup matches without mentioning the Qatari national team as if it did not exist. Meanwhile, the four Bahraini newspapers covered the news of Qatar's national team exiting the group stage with an air of celebration, completely downplaying the significance of the event.

The World Cup concluded, but Bahrain's problem with Qatar persisted. Doha continued to ignore Bahrain, while Bahrain's local newspapers, especially Al-Ayam, reflecting King Bahrain's mood vividly, continued their attack on Qatar. This seemed to be a cry of pain and bitterness over the losses suffered by the Al Khalifa family due to the Qatari blockade, preventing them from benefiting financially from the World Cup.

Arabic Version