Greetings from Abu Dhabi! As reported by several major news publications, four countries in the Persian Gulf region have cut diplomatic relations with, closed their borders to, and halted all travel to/from Qatar: the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt. This move seems to be have been spearheaded by Saudi Arabia, which claims to be concerned about Qatar’s support of terrorism (a bit ironic, don’t you think?) and its ties to Iran. Several Gulf nations have been at odds with Qatar for some time now; diplomatic ties were severed most recently in 2014 over Qatar’s support of then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Pan-Islamic organization that has been designated a terrorist group by a number of Gulf nations.
The UAE and Bahrain have closed their diplomatic missions and given their diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, Bahrain has told its citizens to leave Qatar within two weeks, and Egypt has closed its airspace and seaports to all Qatari transport vessels. In addition to cutting diplomatic ties, Saudi Arabia has also closed its land borders with Qatar. As mentioned above, I’m actually currently in the UAE, having been in Qatar just a few days ago (trip report to come). While I didn’t fly directly from Qatar to the UAE, I’m glad I was able to get out in time to avoid any potential issues that may have arisen. Of note, there is no information yet on when the travel restrictions come into effect, and as of 9 AM Gulf Standard Time there have not been announcements from any airlines. (Update 12 PM Gulf Standard Time/4 AM Eastern Time 6/5/17: Etihad has suspended all flights to Doha, effective 6/6/17)
Of particular interest to those of us who follow the aviation industry is the impact this will have on Qatar Airways. The carrier serves of course largely to feed connecting traffic from all over the world to other parts of Asia and the Middle East through its hub in Doha. A major competitor to UAE-based Emirates and Etihad, Qatar often prices its fares lower than EK and EY in attempts to gain a larger share of feeder traffic from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. While it remains to be seen exactly what results from today’s news, there’s no doubt that if these sanctions against Qatar continue for a prolonged period of time (the spat in 2014 lasted about eight months), QR will be considerably impacted.
An additional question that remains is what, if anything, the current US administration will do. As an ally of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the US is in a delicate position. As we’ve seen already, the current administration does not seem to care much for established norms and is quite apt to buck longstanding diplomatic trends and relationships. If indeed the US does react against Qatar, the results could be potentially even more damaging to Qatar Airways than the recent electronics ban has been.