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How the first week of the Qatar situation unfolded…

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The biggest rift in GCC history is happening right now. The airspace closures and business shutdowns will affect the lives of many in the UAE and beyond. Here’s everything you need to know, as it happens…

THE UAE AMBASSADOR EXPLAINS REASONING…

– The UAE Ambassador to the US, Youssef Al Otaiba, penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal.

“When the United Arab Emirates and like-minded countries took diplomatic and economic measures against Qatar last week, it was not done lightly or in haste. Rather it was prompted by the accumulation of years of bewildering Qatari behaviour…”

He added that “Qatar invests billions of dollars in the U.S. and Europe and then recycles the profits to support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and groups linked to al Qaeda.

Youssef Al Otaiba has explained how this seemingly sudden move is actually due to years of issues…

In the op-ed he details organisations and transactions that link Qatar to the funding of terrorism: “For years, Qatar has supported and sheltered extremists. In the mid-1990s, it harboured the notorious terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who became one of the principal plotters of the Sept. 11 attacks. Today it hosts and promotes the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi, as well as Khaled Mashal, leader of Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organisation.

“The Financial Times reports that two months ago Qatar paid a hostage ransom of as much as $1 billion to a variety of terror organisations in Syria and Iraq that are subject to sanctions, including Iran’s local Hezbollah franchise.”

He ends with how: “Qatar cannot own stakes in the Empire State Building and the London Shard and use the profits to write checks to affiliates of al Qaeda. It cannot plaster its name on soccer jerseys while its media networks burnish the extremist brand. It cannot be owners of Harrods and Tiffany & Co. while providing safe haven to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

You can read the full op-ed here.

WEDNESDAY UPDATES…

– Contrary to popular belief, any airline or airplane that’s not from Qatar can fly from Qatar over UAE airspace. It has now been confirmed that only Qatari airlines can’t use UAE and Saudi airspace (and, by extension, UAE airlines can’t use Qatari airspace). This means, for instance, that Air India Express can now fly a direct route from Qatar to the subcontinent over the UAE, so they won’t have to limit baggage allowances or increase prices due to extended flight times. (Indian nationals make up the largest expat group in Qatar.)

“The limitation on the use of Saudi airspace is only limited to Qatar Airways or Qatari-owned aircraft, not anybody else,” explained Saudi authorities of the ruling (and the same applies in the UAE).

TUESDAY UPDATES…

– The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has said that the reports that Qatari Umrah pilgrims are being blocked from entering the Grand Holy Mosque are “untrue”. “The directives of the Kingdom’s leadership emphasise providing services and facilitating affairs of Umrah performers from all countries of the world, including brothers from the State of Qatar,” said the General Presidency of the Grand Holy Mosque. “Since 9/9/1438 AH until today, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has received 1633 Qatari Umrah performers who performed Umrah rituals.”

– The UAE Civil Aviation Authority released a statement to affirm that it stands by its decision to ban Qatari aviation companies and aircraft from transiting through its airspace or landing in its airports. They said that the boycott “does not include the aviation companies and aircraft not registered in the UAE or Qatar, and wishing to cross the country’s airspace to and from Qatar”. But they did say that non-Qatari private and chartered flights must submit a request to the General Civil Aviation Authority at least 24 hours before flight to charter UAE airspace. This must include a list of names and nationalities of crew and passengers, and the cargo carried by the aircraft.

MONDAY UPDATES..

– Kuwait is acting as a mediator in the serious rift, and its official news agency has said that Qatar is ready “to understand the reality of the qualms and concerns of their brothers and to heed the noble endeavours to enhance security and stability.” The UAE’s Minister of State Anwar Gargash tweeted in response: “Is this the beginning of wisdom and reasonable thinking? I hope so.”

– Morocco said on Sunday that it would remain neutral and offered to facilitate dialogue.

– FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said that he doesn’t think this situation will affect 2022’s World Cup in Qatar: “I am confident that the region will return to a normalised situation”.

– Iranian officials have said that they have been sending four cargo planes of fresh fruit and vegetables to Qatar every day.

SUNDAY UPDATES…

– The UAE’s President has instructed authorities to take into consideration the humanitarian circumstances of Emirati-Qatari families. A hotline has been set up by the Ministry of Interior to help Emirati-Qatari joint families. Call (800) 2626 for help if your family is in this category. Bahrain and Saudi have set up similar hotlines (+97317399821 for Bahrain and +966112409111 for Saudi Arabia).

– Qatar’s Ministry of Interior has released a statement to say that nationals of countries that have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar are still free to remain in the Gulf state. This will come as a relief to the Egyptians in Qatar, who make up one of the largest expat groups in the country (Egypt has cut diplomatic ties with Qatar).

– The UAE’s Minister of State Anwar Gargash tweeted on Saturday that… “Qatar has been riding (the) tiger of extremism & terrorism. Cost to region & world too high,” tweeted Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs… Diplomacy only way forward. Process can only work following clear indication that Qatar will stop support & finance of extremism & terrorism.”

Anwar Gargash has been tweeting about the situation all week

LAST WEEK

The Qatar Airways website has been blocked in the UAE. Customers of the airline in the UAE will now have to rely on the call centres to make changes or get refunds.

Emirates Post Group has suspended all postal service to Qatar from its offices in the UAE. All items yet to be delivered will be returned to sender (with postal fees refunded).

– Foreigners living in Qatar with residence visas will no longer be eligible for visas on arrival into the United Arab Emirates.

All Qatar Airways offices in the UAE are now closed – a decision made by the UAE General Civil Aviation Authority. This means people in the UAE with flights booked with Qatar Airways will have to rely on the airline’s call centres.

– The UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash released a statement, saying: “As Qatar is a neighbour, it should commit to the rules of security and the stability of the Gulf. It has to stop playing the role of the main promoter of extremism and terrorism in the region…. The crisis has increased, and we have reached a dead end in our endeavours to convince Qatar to change its course.” He stressed that members of the Muslim Brotherhood should not have a safe haven in the region.

The Indian embassy in Qatar has tweeted that there is “nothing happening that suggests any threat to physical security. There is no shortage of food items in the markets in Qatar. Please do not panic. Food retailers are ensuring uninterrupted supplies,” it added.

– Both HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, met with Kuwait’s Emir at Zabeel Palace on Wednesday. The Kuwaiti Emir jetted to Qatar after meeting the UAE rulers.

Photo: Media Office

– Qatar Airways group CEO Akbar Al Baker has said that Qatar Airways ensured that “all passengers were brought home safely to Doha within 24 hours of the flight cancellations”.

– The UAE general prosecutor Hamad Saif Al-Shamsi has warned that showing sympathy for Qatar on social media is a cybercrime, punishable by UAE law. Al Arabiya News reported that UAE-based social media users posting pro-Qatar content could be fined Dhs500,000 and see between three and 15 years in prison.

– Jordan has now joined in, downgrading its number of diplomats in Qatar and withdrawing Al Jazeera’s license from the country. Mauritania and the Comoros have cut ties and Gabon has expressed condemnation against Qatar, while Djibouti has downgraded diplomatic relations with the country.

Etihad Airways has announced that all travellers holding Qatari passports are now prohibited from even transiting through the United Arab Emirates. 

– The Qatar-based beIN Sports network has been blocked in the UAE on both Du and Etisalat leaving paying customers without football. Read more about that here.

*ALSO: How to navigate the travel ban if you have bookings with Qatar Airways*

– Kuwait’s Emir was in Saudi Arabia Tuesday to meet King Salman – he is believed to be acting as a mediator. “We are willing to sit and talk,” Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani al-Thani told CNN Tuesday.

– After telling customers it was business as usual for most of Monday, Qatar Airways announced at 7pm Monday it will cease all flights to and from the UAE as of 4am UAE time on Tuesday June 6. The UAE’s official news agency announced a “closure of UAE airspace and seaports for all Qataris in 24 hours and a banning of all Qatari means of transportation, coming to or leaving the UAE, from crossing, entering or leaving the UAE territories” on Monday morning.

– “All customers booked on affected flights will be provided with alternative options, including the option of a full refund on any unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternative Qatar Airways network destination,” the airline has said. Qatar Airways call centres told customers on Monday that they will aim to offer a transfer of tickets to partner airlines when possible. Partner airlines include airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, SriLankan Airlines, TAM Airlines and around 30 affiliates. Qatar has also cancelled flights to and from Egypt, Saudi and Bahrain. Read more from the airline here. The Qatar Airways call centres in the UAE were virtually impossible to get through to on Tuesday.

– US President Donald Trump had this to say on the matter on Tuesday afternoon UAE time: On Thursday he said he is willing to mediate the crisis (and welcomed the leaders to the White House).

Qatar Airways organised three charter flights on Tuesday for its customers from Jeddah to Muscat via Oman Air. The passengers then went on to Doha with Qatar Airways.

– UAE national carrier Etihad Airways cancelled all flights to and from Qatar effective Tuesday (there is no indication of how permanent a change this is). The last flight from Abu Dhabi to Qatar was at 2.45am on Tuesday June 6. (Private airline Royal Jet has also suspended service.)

– Flydubai stopped all flights to and from Doha as of Tuesday June 6.

AirArabia has followed suit and cancelled all flights from Sharjah to Doha, effective Tuesday June 6.

– Emirates has also suspended all flights to Qatar. Here’s what they had to say: “As instructed by the UAE government, Emirates will suspend its flights to and from Doha, starting from the morning of 6 June 2017, until further notice. The last flight from Dubai to Doha will depart as EK847 at 02:30am on 6 June. The last flight from Doha to Dubai will depart as EK848 at 03:50am on 6 June. Emirates’ flights to and from Doha today (5 June), will operate as normal. Travellers bound for Doha, who are boarding their flight from airports around the Emirates network today (5 June), will be advised to make alternative arrangements. All customers booked on Emirates’ flights to and from Doha will be provided with alternative options, including full refunds on unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternate Emirates destinations. Call 600 555555 for more information.” 

– The flight cancellations will impact those who fly to and from the UAE and Qatar regularly for work – remember, however, that Kuwait and Oman are not closing their airspace and so are likely to continue flights to Doha (for now at least).

– The link between Doha and Dubai affects many flights, with many in the UAE flying with Qatar Airways to destinations as far afield as London, Auckland and Kuala Lumpur. The closure of UAE and Saudi airspace would mean all Qatar Airways flights will have to take a north route via Iran, no matter their final destination (adding flight time to many routes). The Eid holidays are coming up, and that’s a particularly busy travel period in the region.

The UAE gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours as of Monday morning to leave the UAE – and they’ve broken off all diplomatic relations with the country – which is particularly notable considering it’s part of the GCC.

– The UAE’s official news agency also says it’s “preventing Qatari nationals from entering the UAE or crossing its points of entry” and is “giving Qatari residents and visitors in the UAE 14 days to leave the country for precautionary security reasons. The UAE nationals are likewise banned from traveling to or staying in Qatar or transiting through its territories.” Note: This doesn’t currently affect UAE residents, just Emirati citizens. With all flights to and from the UAE and Qatar suspended, Qataris who leave within the 14 days will have to fly to a different location and then home to Qatar.

– Remember, Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of Liquified Natural Gas, and the Dolphin pipeline that runs from Qatar to the UAE accounts for around a quarter of the UAE’s daily LNG consumption.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Maldives and Bahrain have also cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, as have the Yemeni and temporary Libyan government, and Saudi has closed its land border with Qatar (there’s still no clarity on how quickly that closure will happen). According to the BBC about 40% of Qatar’s food comes in via this land border. The border with Saudi is Qatar’s only land border – and so the nation will become an island in trade terms. This will likely cause inflation in the country.

– Saudi Arabia has directed all Qatari nationals to leave KSA within 14 days, however according to Saudi’s official news agency, pilgrims with plans to go Mecca or Madinah will be exempt.

– Saudi Arabia has revoked the licence of Qatar Airways and the Saudi General Authority for Civil Aviation has said it will shut down the airline’s offices in the Kingdom.

– Qatari troops are being removed from Yemen.

– Qatar’s stock market had fallen by 7.6% by lunchtime Monday after the news of severed ties was released, while oil prices rose by 1%.

*ALSO READ: The UAE Hyperloop has some competition*

– Here is more from the UAE news agency on why this is all happening now: “The UAE is taking these decisive measures as a result of the Qatari authorities’ failure to abide by the Riyadh Agreement on returning GCC diplomats to Doha and its Complementary Arrangement in 2014, and Qatar’s continued support, funding and hosting of terror groups, primarily Islamic Brotherhood… While regretting the policies taken by the State of Qatar that sow seeds of sedition and discord among the region’s countries, the UAE affirms its full respect and appreciation for the brotherly Qatari people on account of the profound historical, religious and fraternal ties and kin relations binding UAE and Qatari peoples.” Qatar has said the claims have “reached the level of complete fabrications”.

– Here’s a map to give you context of where Qatar is in relation to the UAE:

Photo: Google Maps

– US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had this to say about the situation:

– Note: This information was correct as of 9.30am UAE time Wednesday, but it’s a fluid situation.

– Photo: Getty Images

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