Qatari residents awoke on Monday to learn that several major Gulf State nations had cut all diplomatic ties with their country. Along with several other countries in the Middle East, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have all announced the decision to sever their relationship with Qatar due to its government’s support of Islamist groups and Iran. “The measures that have been taken by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the other states are the equivalent of an economic blockade,” Jean-Marc Rickli, head of global risks and resilience at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told Business Insider.
With rising uncertainty about how the sanctions will affect the country’s food supplies, many Qataris have already started stocking up on supplies at their local supermarkets. Along with giving Qatari citizens two weeks to leave those countries and shutting down Qatar’s only land border with Saudi Arabia, leaders of the Arab states have moved to isolate the country by land, sea, and air. The Arab world’s decision to cut diplomatic ties with the oil-rich nation comes two weeks after President Donald Trump called on the Arab countries to do more to fight extremism in the Middle East. Egypt’s state news agency announced that Qatar “threatens Arab national security and sows the seeds of strife and division within Arab societies according to a deliberate plan aimed at the unity and interests of the Arab nation.”
Amid rising political and economic uncertainty, Qatari residents streamed to nearby supermarkets in order to stock up on food. Even though Qatar’s foreign affairs ministry told people that the rift would not alter life for ordinary Qatari people, many chose to stock up on supplies of eggs, milk, water, and rice, Doha News reports. “I’ve never seen anything like it—people have trolleys full of food and water,” an observer at the supermarket told the outlet.
As a small country, Qatar is highly dependent on food brought from other parts of the world, Rickli said. Now that other Gulf leaders have taken such a strong position, food prices could go up, foreign banks may stop operating, travel could become difficult, and Qatar could become more and more isolated from the Arab world. “These are issues that could affect your daily life,” Rickli said.
Over the last five years, Gulf countries have frequently criticized Qatar for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist Group — and even temporarily withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in 2014. But, Rickli said, while the 2014 fallout had mostly stuck to politics, the current rift will have widespread economic implications when it comes to food security and trade.
While Saudi and UAE banks have not yet received specific instructions on dealing with their Qatari clients, many people also rushed to withdraw cash from their accounts at local banks and ATMs. “In 2014, it was a diplomatic crisis. Now it extends from the diplomatic realm into the economic realm,” Rickli said.
During his two terms, Barack Obama has taken a largely passive approach to Gulf State tensions. Meanwhile, Trump’s vociferous calls against Islamist terrorism emboldens countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt in their Qatar blockade, Rickli said. “I don’t think they will settle for less than a drastic policy change in Doha,” he said, adding that Qatar now faces enormous pressure in its government’s stances on Iran and various militant groups.
But as the world waits to see whether the blockade and diplomatic fallout will lead the Qatar government to shift its policy, ordinary Qataris are preparing for months of food scarcity and financial uncertainty that could come. “For the Qataris, this will have concrete consequences on their day-to-day life,” Rickli said.