Qatar faces airspace ban as crisis with neighbours grows

(BBC)  Egypt is closing its airspace to Qatari planes in a growing diplomatic row, with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain expected to do the same on Tuesday.

Several countries have cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism in the Gulf region.

Qatari nationals in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been given two weeks to leave.

Qatar denies backing militants and its foreign minister has called for “a dialogue of openness and honesty”.

Egypt said it was closing off its airspace to Qatar from 04:00 GMT on Tuesday “until further notice”.

Travel disruption is expected as the airport in Doha, Qatar’s capital, is a major hub for international flight connections.

Airlines affected will include Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates.

 When avoiding the massive neighbour to the west, Saudi Arabia, Qatari planes will inevitably have to take longer routes leading to longer flight times.

But Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, told broadcaster al-Jazeera the country would “still have access to the world through international sea lanes and international airspace”.

An anonymous Somali official told AP news agency at least 15 Qatar Airways flights had used Somalia’s airspace on Monday, many more than on a normal day.

The states who joined to move against Qatar, a tiny but gas-rich peninsula, on Monday include some of the biggest powers in the Arab world.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE closed all transport ties by air, land and sea to Qatar.

They gave all Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their territory, and banned their citizens from travelling to Qatar.

The UAE and Egypt expelled Qatari diplomats, giving them 48 hours to leave.

Saudi Arabia closed down a local office of al-Jazeera but said Qatari citizens would still be allowed to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.

Egypt, Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives later followed suit in severing diplomatic ties.

In a country reliant on imported food, residents began to stockpile. AFP news agency said queues in one shop were 25 people deep.

A dependent state: Analysis by the BBC’s Andrew Walker

This small state is dependent on imported food.

A substantial amount of it is transported across the border from Saudi Arabia, which is being closed. That is also an important route for construction materials – needed for the energy industry and for the preparations for the 2022 football world cup.

Qatar’s exports are dominated by oil and gas. They are mostly seaborne, so should not be immediately hit, but the general economic disruption could have an impact if the dispute drags on.

That possibility pushed the price of crude oil higher, but only briefly. Qatar is a member of the exporters’ group Opec and the dispute could yet undermine the organisation’s efforts to raise prices by restricting production.

While the severing of ties was sudden, it has not come out of the blue, as tensions have been building for years, and particularly in recent weeks.

Broadly, two key factors drove Monday’s decision: Qatar’s ties to Islamist groups, and the role of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

Wealthy individuals in the country are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hardline Islamist groups in Syria.

Two weeks ago, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE blocked Qatari news sites, including Al Jazeera. Comments purportedly by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani criticising Saudi Arabia had appeared on Qatari state media.

Qatar, which is due to host the football World Cup in 2022, said the decision would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents”.

Iran, Turkey and the US have called on all sides to resolve their differences.

Sudan’s foreign ministry also called for dialogue and said the country was “fully ready to undertake all efforts in order to achieve calm and reconciliation that would help serve the interests of the people of the region”.

Qatar’s stock market closed down 7.27% on Monday.
* Culled from BBC