Saudi city awaits reconciliation with Qatar for economic recovery

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Dust piles up cranes near a hotel whose construction was financed with Qatari funding in the Saudi city of Al-Ahsa, which was severely affected by the severing of ties between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors, but signs of détente in the diplomatic crisis began to revive hopes of an economic recovery among the population.

The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman played down the importance of the impact of the dispute after his country, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Doha in mid-2017 on his country. But it is different in Al-Ahsa near the Qatari border, which was previously crowded with Qatari shoppers who were crossing the border to buy supplies such as herbs, eggs, milk and camel meat at low prices.

Wealthy Qataris were also pumping millions into local hotels, date farms and the real estate sector.

But after cutting ties with Doha on June 5, 2017, Qataris stopped coming to Al-Ahsa, causing economic hardship, as well as deporting family members of mixed families on both sides of each other.

The researcher at Oxford University, Samuel Romany, believes that the boycott of Qatar “had a negative impact on the towns near the borders, and made investments difficult, at a time when the Saudi economy suffers from a large deficit.”

It is difficult to obtain official statistics, but the economic effects were evident in the city of Al-Ahsa, where more than a million people reside.

Shopping centers and commercial markets look almost empty, and traditional gown sellers known as “bisht” complain of declining sales.

There are also three hotels that have not been completed yet, which are under construction with Qatari financing, and are now deserted after work suddenly stopped in 2017. These hotels, according to what some believe, were dedicated to hosting additional tourists to attend the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The manager of a hotel operating in Al-Ahsa confirmed to Agence France Presse that the hotel’s parking lot is now empty, while it was previously filled with cars bearing a Qatari registration license.

The manager talked about the decline in the hotel occupancy rate after the Qatar boycott, and about the difficulties he faced even in paying the electricity bill.

And there is still a glimmer of hope that the majority of Qatari investors will not liquidate their investments in the city, which means that the business can return to what it was in the past.

– positive signs –

Residents believe that resolving the Saudi-Qatari dispute is not impossible, describing it as a dispute between cousins.

The indications multiplied that the relations between the two parties to the conflict in the Gulf may have a draining, which leads many to believe that the Qataris will inevitably return.

“The dispute is between governments and not between peoples. We are not different countries, we are one big family,” said a businessman in the city, who asked not to be named.

Last month, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain sent their national teams to participate in the Gulf Football Championship hosted by Qatar, which sparked speculation about the possibility of an imminent diplomatic breakthrough.

There was a decline in the intensity of the rhetoric and speech in the various Gulf governmental media outlets in their handling of the issue of the crisis.

And Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani, who visited Saudi Arabia last month, said that “some progress” has been made during talks with Saudi Arabia aimed at ending the Gulf crisis that has been going on for more than two years.

The real indicator of the détente will be the level of Qatari representation at the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, which begins Tuesday in Riyadh. The Saudi monarch, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, extended an invitation to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, but it is not clear if he will meet it.

Two sources familiar with the negotiations, including an Arab diplomat, told France Press that there are those who “oppose” in Abu Dhabi the restoration of relations.

This means the possibility of a “forked peace”, which means that Doha normalizes relations only with some of the countries boycotting it, including Saudi Arabia, with which it shares its only land borders.

– “Punishment” –

It appears that Saudi Arabia has begun adopting an approach to defuse the escalation after adopting what foreign policy experts say are “tough policies” that frightened foreign investors.

Ramani says that the rapprochement between Qatar and other countries seems to come “without major concessions from Doha” after the boycott of its neighbors, on the background of its accusation of supporting militant groups, prompted her to enhance her self-reliance.

As a direct result of the crisis, Doha was forced to search for alternatives to food imports after the countries involved in the conflict stopped their food exports to them.

Before the crisis, Qatar was heavily dependent on imports of dairy products from Saudi Arabia. And then she imported cows.

The Arab diplomat – who is not from the Arab Gulf states – believes that “Qatar, like a newborn, was expelled from the home as punishment.”

“They thought he would come back crying, but he stood on his feet and no longer needed them,” he added.

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