Qatar had been under Saudi Arabia’s shadow for many years before the previous emir Father Emir Hamad took over the throne from his father in a bloodless coup.
The Emir was a strong minded man who saw an independent future for Qatar. From here started a cold rivalry that has now escalated into a diplomatic severing of ties that has now gone on for close to two months.
So what is the relationship that Qatar has with Saudi Arabia? Here is brief chronology of important events that explain the stressed relations between the two gulf countries:
- In 1969, an agreement with Qatar was reached about their borders after three years of dispute. A final agreement about the Qatar border was signed in 2001.
- In 1988, the ruler had established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, a Saudi adversary, giving Qatar a taste of an independent foreign policy.
- In 1992, a clash with Saudi Arabia along their short but disputed border left two Qatari soldiers dead. Two years later, when Yemen fell into a brief civil war, Qatar and Saudi Arabia backed opposing sides.
- In the 1990s, technological and economic developments created a global market for liquefied natural gas, which can be loaded onto ships, bypassing pipelines that would run through Saudi territory.
- In 1995, the year Emir Hamad became ruler, Qatar’s economy expanded from $8.1 billion in to an astonishing $210 billion in 2014.
- Qatar cultivated ties with Iran and established trade relations with Israel. It became host to a large American air base, in part to guard against Saudi bullying.
Sheikh Hamad and his foreign minister flew from one Arab capital to another, offering their services as mediators and generous donors.
- 1 November 1996 Emir Hamad started Al Jazeera, a news agency that would rapidly become the most watched Arab channel in the world and the middle-east, something Saudi Arabia did not like as it liked having control over people’s views.
It established the satellite news channel Al Jazeera, using it to project soft power, promote allies and irk the Saudi royal family.
2001, Qatar accepted US to set up base, the biggest in the middle-east, with close to 11,000 soldiers stationed permanently. This was to show Saudi Arabia that it could be bullied anymore.
- In 2002, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Qatar, nominally over Al Jazeera’s criticism of the Saudi government.
“It takes until 2008 for Saudi Arabia to really digest the notion that Qatar is a fully independent state,” said David B. Roberts, a professor at King’s College London.
The Saudi ambassador returned to Qatar in 2008, and the two neighbors might have found equilibrium if not for what came next.
- The Arab Spring, which saw uprisings across the region in 2011, provided Qatar with an opening.
- Sheikh Hamad, in poor health, abdicated the throne and was succeeded by a 33-year-old son in 2013.
- During a March 2014 meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council, after which the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabiaand Bahrain announced the recall of their ambassadors to Qatar
Some economists have interpreted the 2014 Saudi–Qatari rift as the tangible political sign of a growing economic rivalry between oil and natural gas producers, which could “have deep and long-lasting consequences” beyond the Middle East-North Africa area.
- The 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, which Saudi Arabia opposed, further complicated the issue. It left Saudi Arabia more concerned by Qatar’s links to Iran, however limited, but less willing to pressure Qatar, which the Saudis knew would inflame tensions with Washington over the Iran deal.
- On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia had officially cut ties with Qatar.