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Qatar Isolation Two Years On

Rulers Fail to Remedy Rights Violations for Gulf Citizens and Residents

In this Friday, June 2, 2017 file photo released by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, left, talks to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince and Deputy Commander in Chief of the Emirates Armed Forces in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. © 2019 Saudi Press Agency via AP, File

Exactly two years since Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates cut off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar and sparked a regional crisis, parties to the dispute seem nowhere near resolving their differences. While they argue, the crisis continues to infringe on the rights of citizens and residents of all five countries.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch revealed that the forced isolation of Qatar was separating families, interrupting medical care and education, and stranding migrant workers without food or water. Related measures taken by states infringed upon free expression.

Yet, the status quo since June 5, 2017 is unchanged. Travel to and from Qatar remains restricted, and the land border with Saudi Arabia remains closed. Qataris can only travel to visit relatives in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE if they obtain their government’s permission explaining the “humanitarian” reason for their trip. In UAE and Bahrain, speech critical of their governments’ isolation of Qatar or expressing sympathy for Qatar is prosecuted as a crime.

Qatar has also failed to live up to the reforms it promised in an attempt to offset the crisis. While the promises may have helped Qatar’s international “brand,” the country has so far failed to properly address the effect of the crisis on its citizens and residents alike.

For instance, Qatari women – and their families of mixed nationalities from other Gulf countries – suffered acutely because Qatar denies both children and spouses of Qatari women equality in obtaining citizenship. Instead, it introduced a law that allows a limited number of Qatari women’s children and spouses to be granted permanent residency status each year.

In September 2018, Qatar passed the region’s first-ever asylum law, all the more important in light of the ongoing crisis. But it has yet to implement it.  

Most problematically, despite partial reforms to improve the lives of the millions of migrant workers living in Qatar, these continue to suffer under a “kafala” sponsorship system that traps them in exploitative working conditions and leaves them even more vulnerable to the economic hardships imposed by Qatar’s isolation.

It’s a shame that two years on, as Gulf state rulers appear to settle into a dispute with far reaching implications, their populations continue to suffer.

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