Welcoming 2021, with the heartwarming news in Qatar, the reopening of the borders. These are land, sea, and air space borders that were shut down in June 2017. You may be wondering why I am celebrating from afar. And what happened? In this article, I will share with you about my second home, Qatar!
Looking back the 4th of June 2017, was just an ordinary night for most of us working ex-pats in Qatar. After a long day of work, I go home and relax, just an ordinary workday. The next day, the 5th of June, waking up with this news: Qatar’s Borders Close by KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), UAE (United Arab Emirates), Bahrain, and Egypt. Just that…and everything changed. I think most of us are asking, Is this war? Seriously, the 1990s Gulf War flash instantly.
Why cutting diplomatic ties among these countries? There were allegations regarding supporting terrorist groups and a 13-list of demands that Qatar has to comply with the neighboring countries. Though, I will not dive into that. If this ignites your curiosity, you can find more out about this.
Further Reading: Qatar Crisis 2017
Moving on, I will share with you how this situation impacts me and most of us living in Qatar during that time.
Gulf Cooperation Council
The following countries Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, all situated in the Persian Gulf are members of the GCC. This council was established in 1981 to strengthen and unify economic relations in the Middle East. However, up to the present, the goal of a single currency remains to be for further discussion.
Read more: GCC Council
Then in 2011, Egypt became a member of the council. Other Arab states – Iraq and Yemen their memberships are not approved yet. As for Jordan and Morocco, they remain as strong allies of the GCC countries. And lastly with Iran as per the GCC Summit in 2012, their interference came to an end.
The relations among Arab nations are very complex and discussing it will take a lifetime or more. Therefore, I will leave this part for your own initiative and indulgence. So when you hear about GCC countries, now you know who they are!
Qatar is my Second Home
Simply because having ten years of residency, this country became my focal point in my career, as a traveler, and a catalyst on understanding people from different background and society.
The State of Qatar is in Western Asia, the Middle East Region with Saudi Arabia bordering in the south, and then the waters of the Persian Gulf surrounding it. Doha is the capital city. Qatar’s growth and expansion is like a giant leap. I can compare the beginning of 2008 when I arrived and just after 5 years it became a metropolitan city with high rise buildings of all sorts of shapes!
Consequently, international business enterprises find their way and set up overseas partnerships in this country. Thus the growth of working ex-pats coming from various countries soaring the population count. Indeed, Qatar became a melting pot of cultures.
The Impact of Border Shutdown
Generally, anything related to the movement of goods and people is a direct hit of this situation. Flights to and from the KSA, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt are halted. Vessels coming from Jebel Port in UAE were grounded and no delivery trucks or vehicles can cross to and from the KSA land border.
I. In the Workplace
Without a doubt, this situation has shaken most of the industries operating in Qatar. For the first few days, everyone is in a state of disbelief and with the Ramadan season (a Holy season) coming in a few weeks, well, things might return to normal. But week after week, became months then years…
While my role was in the logistics sector, we have goods coming from the far east and from GCC Countries too; hence all delivery commitments did not happen! Even our partner freight agents are scrambling to find solutions and yes, just waiting game and all at a standstill.
The solution was to divert cargoes and all other shipments to Oman, which is a neutral state. Very costly indeed as we have to prepare another set of documentation and separate clearing and handling fees. It’s like your order undergoing double customs and handling charges. Secondly, delivery time is longer and thirdly, it affects the company’s finances. So, this is just one portion of the story and you can imagine what is happening in other companies as well!
II. To the Residents
If we don’t know what is happening, then fear envelopes us. Some were talking about an imminent war, hoarding of basic commodities starts – items on the supermarket shelves are gone, and I remember a letter circulating around to always prepare for immediate evacuation with a checklist of things on your getaway bag. What?! Is this for real?!
Ok, hold on, no need to panic now. That was just the first few weeks. The dust start to settle and it’s like, we are all facing this now. (Just like how we are doing with the pandemic.) Let’s live one day at a time.
Because so many goods cannot cross the border, especially coming from GCC countries; the items are flown directly via air cargo from other nations. Everything you purchase is becoming expensive. Like a tomato for less than $1.00 a kilo now becomes $5.00 (yeah that tomato is coming from Europe) and so on. Of course, you will find new brands on the shelves. The domino effect, all prices at least doubled, hurting the spending capacity of each resident.
III. Travel Restrictions Around GCC
Since air spaces are blocked by UAE, KSA, Bahrain, and Egypt, one cannot travel directly from/to Qatar. This also affects families, having spouses who are working in these countries and are unable to go home conveniently. Many of us are frequently visiting Dubai, UAE, and of course business people who are flying around GCC. Except for Oman and Kuwait, we can fly anytime. As for the airline carriers ceasing operation in affected routes, many staffs have to be transferred and some have been let go.
The tourism industry is facing its adverse effects. Lesser revenue for airline companies, hotels, restaurants and other similar businesses.
Just imagine, Qatar being isolated from its neighbors. Indeed it was a trying time, but as time passes, the country exhibit resilience.
Further Reading: Qatar’s Economy Thriving Despite the Blockade
Now the Borders are Open
After three and half years, the blockade is finally lifted. I am very much happy to hear about Qatar’s reopening of borders. Travel, and trade now resumes. Flights are back to several cities, with the first flight back to KSA commence last 8th of January.
One of the main challenges during the crisis is the supply of commodities which mostly are coming from importations. This became an opportunity to develop and strengthen local produce. Currently, Qatar is growing fruits and vegetables; breeding poultry, processing food products, and manufacturing various household items. Here is a list of Made In Qatar products.
To all travelers, be it known that major cruise lines have an itinerary to the port of Doha during the blockade. Thousands of guests have already been catered showcasing the country’s culture, sightseeing, and must-do activities while in Qatar. Therefore, keep this in mind on your future travels. Feel free to browse this travel website for more information – Qatar International Tours.
I remain hopeful that there will be more opportunities as these nations move forward. Though there are still gray areas in many aspects of diplomatic relations that need more discussion.
At one point, in the middle of my confusion and fear at the onset of the blockade; I asked my boss about what he thinks about this situation. His response:
The Arab Nations (referring to the GCC Countries) are just like siblings. We may fight now, but we will definitely be friends again. Nothing to worry about….
For every crisis, there is always hope. Being an ex-pat and even now residing in a new country, there will be events bound to happen that will just keep us off guard. And it doesn’t exempt anyone living on his own ground. It may be disaster, health, economic or political issues, we should always face situations objectively. Being human our first reaction may be panic, fear or some will get upset but we need to set aside these negative emotions so as not to impact us badly.
There will always be solutions for every setback. Though the transition phase is always difficult and so many scenarios one has to deal with. In times like this, we look up to leaders, in government and private sectors on how to make things work. At the same time, every individual has to fulfill their obligations too and strive to find some balance or a reasonable status quo.
Finally, as we are still facing this health crisis and it is been going on for a year already, let’s continue to keep holding on. I know and I feel it is tiring in all aspects in our lives. But I know this will end, and I live each day full of hope.
Hello, thanks for reading this article, please feel free to leave your feedback.
For anyone residing in GCC Countries, we love to hear your thoughts and experiences too!
And of course, this is not all, I have a sequel coming soon about my ex-pat life in Qatar!
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