Earlier this morning I wrote about the impending isolation that Qatar is expected to feel as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations work to rapidly put travel and other embargoes into place this week. The travel impact is significant but it is nothing compared to the potential humanitarian chaos this isolation could create.
Qatar imports more than 90% of its food. Roughly 90% of that comes in via Saudi Arabia. Closing the borders between Qatar and Saudi Arabia would cut off that flow of food in a manner that would almost certainly crush the small Gulf state if a replacement airlift cannot be quickly arranged.
The planned expulsion/recall of foreign nationals between Qatar and the other nations will have a similar impact on the country’s ability to function. Qatar imports the vast majority of its labor force from both near and afar. Hundreds of thousands of those working in Qatar are foreigners. For the airline that means many UAE nationals in the back office (most flight/cabin crew are South American or Southeast Asian) while Egypt is widely represented in the service industries (~200k people, 10% of the workforce). Forcing those people out of the country will be not only a logistical nightmare if no flights are operating, but the ongoing impact to the country will be significant.
I’m also hearing reports that the UAE is now actively supporting an opposition party in hopes of pushing the Emir out of power and that the Turkish government is brokering negotiations among all affected parties. While it is unclear to what extent he will be involved in negotiations it was reported earlier this afternoon that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al Baker left the IATA meeting earlier to return home and support his company and country.
There are not a lot of outcomes to this situation that look especially positive, or at least without significant impact to the country and regional stability. But the humanitarian impact could be significant if things continue on the current path. That the most likely to be affected are workers imported from other parts of the world is an irony not lost on me.
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