Qatar's splendid isolation is of its own making
Qatar's neighbours tried all they could to preempt the alienation of their recalcitrant neighbour over the years.
It is a lovely day on the French Riviera in mid-June. Partly sunny. The sky resembles the artificial blue yonder you only see in animated Disney films.
Some of the wealthiest people on earth are here to enjoy this picturesque part of France. That includes, of course, several from the Gulf, escaping the scorching sun in their countries.
The famous road in Cannes, the Promenade de la Croisette, overlooking the Mediterranean, hosts some of the world's biggest fashion brands, glamorous hotels, and fancy restaurants.
The tables at the iconic InterContinental Carlton Hotel's restaurant on the terrace are almost full. East Europeans, Brits, Americans, and for sure, Middle Easterners throng the restaurant that has a special menu for Middle Eastern food.
There are Emiratis and Saudis, sitting close to each other, though not by design. Some of them are having late lunch, while others sipping coffee and tea along with a crème brûlée in an outdoor seating area; a feat they will not be able to do at home in summer. Suddenly, a group of Arabs enters the scene. All Arabs around immediately cast a look of familiarity at one man in the group, but none ventures to say 'hello' to him. A few years ago, they would have rushed to take a selfie with the man, whose regional stature then was so high.
The man in question is none other than Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, former prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, and one of the wealthiest people in the world. "Guess who's sitting in front of me?" A Saudi was heard saying on the phone, with hardly any excitement in his tone. If anything, he betrayed thinly veiled scorn for the man.
As I said earlier, the Arabs at the restaurant would have mobbed him for a warm greeting and a selfie in the not so distant past. They would have done so with a sense of fraternal camaraderie and immense respect that defined the Gulf people's attitude to ruling families in their neighbourhood. When citizens of the Gulf countries chance upon royalty from a neighbouring country, they usually convey through their behaviour of 'We are one people.' This sense of regional and cultural solidarity and fraternity never ebbed even when bilateral disputes seemed to cast gloom on the relationships. This respect comes naturally and not as an afterthought. It is an essential element in the Gulf etiquette. After all, countries in the Gulf have much in common in terms of history, tradition, language, civilisational legacy and contemporary security concerns.
On that day in the South of France, the Saudis and Emiratis recognised Hamad bin Jassim, and he recognised them, too. He was seen furtively glancing at them, and they at him, but not a word in friendly banter, not even a dry reluctant smile. Far away in a foreign land, the scene embodied what Qatar has gained ultimately because of its disastrous policies: splendid isolation in its immediate neighbourhood.
Qatar's neighbours tried all they could to preempt the alienation of their recalcitrant neighbour over the years. The held many rounds of intense discussions - the Riyadh agreement - private and public warnings, but to no avail. Qatar persisted in its duplicity and continued to sow seeds of division and discord in its neighbourhood. It adopted funding, sheltering and broadcasting extremism and terrorism as an integral part of its foreign policy, finally forcing its neighbours to take a decision to boycott it in self-defense.
In fact, that scene on the French Riviera in the middle of June was an eloquent depiction of the changing socio-political dynamics in the Gulf. There is a limit to which even the most forgiving, patient and magnanimous neighbours would allow you to threaten their security, interfere in their internal affairs and take their niceties for granted. All the more so if you ally with countries like Iran and Turkey, who are bent on destabilising your neighbours by hook or by crook. The same isolation of Qatari officials is evident at regional political and economic summits (the GCC and OIC meetings this year). Even a casual look at the pictures from these summits shows that the Qatari officials do not belong there, or they do not want to, though the people of Qatar still and will always remain close to us.
"Sometimes I meet friends in London and they say, 'Hi' (from a distance) because they don't want other people to say something (negative or bad about meeting me)," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim told Qatar TV in 2017. Yes, that is very much true. There must be something seriously wrong if your neighbours want to avoid you.
The writer is an Emirati journalist