Qatar Crisis With ex-Sunni Allies Began Two Decades Ago Over Gas and Iran

Qatar's wealth from gas has allowed the small country to create relationships with other world and regional powers that have angered its Arab neighbors

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Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 2012.
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 2012.Credit: Fadi Al-Assaad, Reuters

The diplomatic war in the Middle East between Qatar and seven Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia, its former ally, is rooted in a 22-year-old history over liquified natural gas, argues Bloomberg's Marc Champion. The Saudis claimed that severing ties was related to Qatar's support for terrorism, but as a result of the action Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain closed all transport links with Qatar.

In 1995, Qatar's current ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, took down his own pro-Saudi father and began shipping liquid natural gas (LNG) from the world’s largest gas field, the North Field, which it shares with Saudi arch-enemy Iran.

As a result of the wealth which came from LNG exports, Qatar became a financial power house and crafted in an independent foriegn policy from its neighbors.  Qatar has independet ties to world powers including the U.S., Iran and Russia. For example, Qatar hosts U.S. Central Command.

Champion argues that, "Qatar gas wealth enabled it to develop foreign policies that came to irritate its neighbors. It backed the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in the Gaza Strip and armed factions opposed by the UAE or Saudi Arabia in Libya and Syria."

Qatar has been able to export gas without influence from its neighbors as Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Saudi dominated oil cartel, has no influence over the gas market.

As a result of Qatar's LNG exports, "Qatar needed to promote a regional policy of engagement with Shiite Iran to secure the source of its wealth," argues Champion. This goes a long way to explain to why the Sunni Arab world has turned on Qatar

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