By Zuhal Demirci, Tugcenur Yilmaz and Adham Kako
ANKARA (AA) - As the ongoing crisis in Gulf Arab relations enters its second year, Qatar says it has foiled plans by the four states arrayed against it (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) to undermine its independence vis-à-vis foreign policy.
“They imposed an illegal and immoral blockade on us that contradicts humanitarian values and Islamic values of compassion,” Salem bin Mubarak Al Shafi, Qatar’s Ambassador to Turkey, told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
Qatar has remained at odds with the four states since June 5 of last year, when they accused Doha of supporting terrorism -- allegations Doha denies -- and collectively severed ties with the country.
The four-nation Arab bloc didn’t stop there: they also imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Qatar in hopes of making it comply with a long list of demands.
According to Al Shafi, the Saudi-led axis -- which has launched an unprecedented media, political and economic campaign against Qatar -- has been unable to provide any evidence substantiating its claims.
“They thought that by threatening us with military escalations and inciting for the overthrow of Qatar’s government we would quickly capitulate,” Al Shafi said.
But Qatar, he added, had thwarted the plan “thanks to the trust our allies and friends around the world had in us”.
- Changing equation
Commenting on how Qatar had managed to cope with the year-long blockade, the ambassador said his country had reacted swiftly to the move, which had temporarily led to rising commodity costs.
Since then, however, Al Shafi explained, alternative routes for the transfer of goods had been established, creating new and reliable hubs for commercial transport.
“In short, we changed the equation in our favor,” he said.
Qatar Airways, for example, began providing flights to 18 new destinations -- and bought 36 new aircraft -- in 2017. Meanwhile, Qatar’s Hamad Port opened several new transport routes to various destinations worldwide.
Al Shafi also cited recent reports by the International Monetary Fund predicting that Qatar would achieve an economic growth rate of 2.8 percent in 2018.
“During the crisis, we proved to the world that we are an independent, stable and trustworthy partner that can be depended upon -- to the extent that many of our economic indicators were better than those of the countries arrayed against us,” he said.
According to the ambassador, Qatar -- despite the embargo -- exported roughly 20 percent of the world’s liquefied gas in 2017, while foreign trade increased by 16 percent and the local construction sector grew by 15.5 percent.
- No preconditions
“We don’t believe that the blockading states, led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are looking for a solution so much as they are looking to cause more crises in the region,” Al Shafi said.
He went on to assert that the four-nation Arab bloc had intentionally derailed mediation efforts by Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and then U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson.
“Qatar today is stronger than ever,” he said. “We have successfully emerged from the crisis.”
But he lamented the negative effect of the crisis on the image of the Middle East and the Muslim world, saying the collective policies of the Saudi-led axis had served to harm countries of the region.
“They [i.e., the Saudi-led axis] created crises in Lebanon, Palestine and Tunisia, and with the Yemeni authorities that are loyal to them -- as well as with Djibouti and Somalia,” Al Shafi said.
“They hurt their own reputations; there can be no trust in them or their policies, which have been characterized by arbitrariness, confusion and irresponsibility,” he added.
He went on to reiterate calls to resolve the crisis through “dialogue without preconditions”.
“We believe the U.S. is capable -- if it wanted -- to end the crisis with one serious [telephone] call to one of these countries,” he said.
- Qatar-Turkey ties
Al Shafi also praised the “excellent” Qatar-Turkey relationship, commending Ankara’s “rational and balanced” approach to the crisis and President Erdogan’s efforts to resolve it through dialogue.
The ambassador also noted that Qatar was closely following the Gulf media campaign against Turkey, saying such behavior “came as no surprise”.
Qatar, he said, “has itself been the target of lies and accusations by the Gulf media led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia”.
Al Shafi also cited reports pointing to the involvement of some members of the Saudi-led axis in Turkey’s failed coup attempt in mid-2016, noting that some Gulf-based television channels had provided a platform for coup leader Fethullah Gulen.
These countries, the ambassador said, “are now calling to boycott tourism in Turkey, while there are also suspicions they may be involved in the manipulation of Turkey’s currency -- something they tried with us last year”.
Al Shafi concluded by saying that the crisis had failed to affect Qatar’s ongoing preparations to host the 2022 Football World Cup, an event that is expected to significantly raise the country’s international profile.