Huge Middle East Shake Up Affects Qatar

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Maldives have all severed their diplomatic relationships with the country of Qatar and this has some serious implications for travelers. Qatar is home to the city of Doha, which is a growing hub, where more and more passengers are connecting through to make their way to and from Asia and Australia. It’s also a growing city, set to host the World Cup in 2022.

Unfortunately, Qatar is at odds with its many Middle Eastern neighbors and their neighbors have decided to cut off the country entirely.

What is the problem?

II feel like anything short of a 10,000 word dissertation on topics related to Middle Eastern conflicts, is a gross over-simplification of what’s going on but here’s my interpretation of the controversy.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been at odds for quite some time. This has a lot to do with the fact that Qatar has an economical and political relationship with Iran. Iran is a Shiite-ruled state and Saudi Arabia is Sunni-ruled state. These two do not get along, and so Qatar’s warming up to Iran, doesn’t sit well with Saudi Arabia or many of the other Arab countries.

Oh, and then there’s also the terrorist factor.  Saudi Arabia has accused Qatar of harboring Islamic terrorist organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and even ISIS.

There’s plenty more that could be said about that conflict but the it’s safe to say that these countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have had their issues in the past.

Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back (no pun intended)….

It appears that Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, allegedly voiced his objection to other Gulf states’ hostility toward Iran, said that Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood weren’t terrorist organizations, and questioned Trump’s policies toward Iran. Qatar denies that such statements were made and is blaming this all on hackers who allegedly hacked into a Qatari news agency’s website.

So what’s happening?

Responding to the comments, Saudi Arabia led the charge and claimed that their national security was at risk and accused Qatar of “harboring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region.” They also cited Qatar’s “evasion of its commitments and treaties.” Saudi Arabia gave Qataris 14 days to leave and they even imposed a no-fly zone against Qatar. They also closed up their land border, which is Qatar’s only land border.

Soon after, other Middle Eastern countries followed suit.

The UAE ordered Qatari citizens to leave the country within 14 days and banned its citizens from traveling to Qatar. Both Emirates and Etihad announced they would not be servicing routes to Qatar.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it’s going to withdraw its diplomatic mission from Doha within 48 hours and said all Qatari diplomats would have to leave Bahrain within 48 hours as well.

The only GCC Arab countries that haven’t acted yet are Kuwait and Oman.

So without getting too bogged down in the details of why this all happened, this is a very significant turn because now these Middle Eastern countries are cutting Qatar off from everything, including entry to or from Qatar to all countries via land, sea, and air. For a small country like Qatar, this news is catastrophic and it’s equally as bad for Qatar Airways.

Qatar Airways will now be forced to fly circuitous routes around other countries through Turkey and Iran in an effort to make their way to Europe or North America. This will cause routes to be longer, consume more fuel, and thus be more expensive, which will hit Qatar’s bottom line at a time when they’ve already taken a hit from the laptop ban and planning on releasing their new Q-Suites.

The IATA president is already calling on the countries to work things out and so hopefully there’s some hope that things can get worked out. There’s no doubt that Qatar’s going to feel an insane amount of pressure to concede whatever problematic positions they hold, so we’ll see if they budge.

If you’re a lucky one like me and have a Qatar flight booked to one of those banned countries, my advice is just to wait it out. In my case, my flight is several months out so I’m definitely going to wait this one out before I start to worry.

If you booked your Qatar ticket with oneworld partner American Airlines (like I did)  then you should be able to rebook your ticket without a change fee. Keep in mind that some other countries may soon join the ban, so you might want to hold off if possible before rebooking to see how things shake out in the coming days.