A year ago today, we the people of Qatar woke to find that we, and our country, were under blockade. With no warning, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain announced they were shutting our only land border and halting land, sea and air traffic between us.
Even more painful was the decision, in a flagrant breach of human rights, to eject thousands of our citizens from their lands while demanding their own leave Qatar to return home. It tore families apart, disrupted professional and academic careers and, in some cases, led to the sick being denied medical care.
Publicly, in an attempt to justify their illegal moves, the blockading countries claimed they wanted Qatar to “stop supporting terrorism”. These allegations were, and are, completely baseless. Qatar has never supported terrorism. We are, instead, a regional leader in the international coalition’s fight against ISIS and Al Qaeda with air strikes launching daily from our Al-Udeid air base.
One year later, the private and real purpose of the blockade has been revealed – to take over Qatar. Hoping to strip my country of its sovereignty and independence, the blockading states launched a premeditated campaign of cyber-attacks, bribery, coercion, and market manipulation to put our country firmly under the control of its larger neighbours and effectively turn it into a vassal state.
These tactics have failed. The blockade has, of course, caused real harm and pain to Qatari citizens, which is felt all the more keenly during the holy month of Ramadan. This is usually a time when families traditionally celebrate together. Thanks to the blockade, many remain seperated from loved ones.
But the illegal attacks against Qatar have also pulled our country closer together and encouraged us to look firmly to the future. The blockade has, in fact, proved to be an unlikely catalyst for economic, social and political reform.
Unshackled from the blockading states and their closed policies, Qatar is no longer held back from pushing forward with other long-planned reforms. Working with the International Labour Organisation, we have introduced new laws that provide greater protection and freedom to our expat community. These measures have been praised by organisations such as Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation.
We are also pressing ahead with democratic reforms to our political system. Our Advisory Council, an important legislative body that is currently appointed, is set to have its first elections next year.
It has accelerated our efforts to create a more sustainable and diverse economy. We are edging towards self-sufficiency in food, rather than relying on imports from our neighbours. By the end of this summer, for example, Qatar will be able to meet all our demands for dairy goods from our own production. As we build from within, we are inviting citizens from around the globe to visit Qatar, creating new economic zones and forging more and more partnerships with foreign investments.
Overall, our economy has been recognised by the International Monetary Fund for its strength and resilience in the face of the blockade. Overall exports are up and the construction sector is growing. We are again one of the best performing economies in the region.
That regional success stems in part from our long-standing economic and political partnerships with allies such as the UK. We are particularly grateful for the UK’s support for the Kuwaiti mediation efforts and the repeated calls for an end to the current crisis.
And just as the UK has supported us in growing and expanding our economy, we will strongly support the UK as it looks to the future and seeks to shape a new global role for itself. Qatar is a reliable partner to the UK, providing up to 25 per cent of the nation’s consumption of liquefied natural gas. In addition, last year we committed to investing a further £5bn in the UK post-Brexit, which, on top of the £35bn we have already invested, will bring even greater benefits to both our nations. This commitment will yield more jobs for the regions, and support an even greater range of British industries in the long-term.
The last year has been a difficult time for Qatar. The unfair and unlawful measures taken against our country and citizens have caused harm and heartache. But no one should doubt Qatar’s continued determination to chart our own course in the world and, with the help of our friends, build a prosperous, successful and peaceful future.
Yousef Ali Al-Khater is the Qatari Ambassador to the UK.