The blockade on Qatar has given the country the opportunity to break away from “the conservative influence of Saudi Arabia” and chart its own course on important social, political and economic issues, according to Dr Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, assistant professor in Residence at Northwestern University.
“Although an international crisis is never a desired situation, this blockade has allowed Qatar to address and improve several long-standing issues in its own which were previously hindered by the conservative preferences of other members of the GCC,” Mitchell told the panel at a book launching session at the Doha Forum 2018 titled ‘The Gulf Crisis: A View from Qatar’ on Sunday.
The NU-Q assistant professor’s book focuses on the opportunities for Qatar’s domestic political sphere of this blockade, which are being transformed “into some very beneficial in ways.”
Since the diplomatic crisis began, she noted that Qatar has been too busy: from changing its airline routes and ports for shipping to importing food from new sources, as well as bringing in 4,000 cows to establish a homegrown dairy farm. Mitchell said the ongoing blockade has weakened the GCC and it no longer has access to what she described as “the coercive force to push countries in line with certain conservative preferences.”
“In other words, the GCC is no longer able to hold countries back from doing what they individually think is best for their own country,” she stressed.
“From my research over the years, it is pretty clear that the Qatari leadership is one of the most progressive in the GCC, but they’ve been held back by the conservative preferences of the GCC led by Saudi Arabia,” Mitchell noted. “Now Qatar doesn’t have to listen to Saudi Arabia anymore.”
She noted that the country has a big opportunity to move forward in a lot of domestic issues that have been previously blocked.
While the residency law is just one of the many things that have changed quickly in Qatar since the blockade began, Mitchell noted that efforts to be self-sufficient (food-security) and policies like improved relations with Iran have been advantageous and beneficial for the country.
She said Qatar also issued free-entry visas and visas-on-arrival to citizens of 80 countries to promote tourism, providing more opportunities for foreign businesses. It also saw improved labour rights for workers and an increased respect for Qatari artists.
“Perhaps most importantly, there is more space for citizens themselves to voice their opinions and support their government in national government goals including the appointment of four women to Qatar’s Advisory Council (Shura Council) for the first time, and promises of His Highness the Amir and the Foreign Minister to have elections for the council in 2019,” Mitchell added.
She stressed that such changes are not shallow but deep and meaningful, having the power to reshape Qatari politics and society in the future.
“In three years to five years we might all look back and say that June 5, 2017 was the moment when things started to change in Qatar, and for the better,” Mitchell said.
She noted that international conflicts have a way of provoking unintended consequences but the blockade may have been an effort to get Qatar back in line with the conservative GCC politics of the past.
“But as we have seen instead it has backfired tremendously. The blockade that was supposed to reinforce the conservative ways of the past is instead leading to rapid progressive change in Qatar and one can argue elsewhere in the Gulf,” Mitchell explained. “And I for one, am very excited to watch how Qatar continues to use this crisis to its advantage.”