The Gulf states have held a blockade against Qatar since 2017, but it will now be lifted. Though this is a victory for Qatar, there are concerns about what this will mean for the rest of the states in the region, writes Damien Phillips.

The forthcoming announcement that the blockade of Qatar by several of its Gulf neighbours will be lifted is a victory for the plucky state in its successful stand against regional bullying. A Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt, has enforced a blockade against Qatar by land, sea and air since June 2017.

Despite enforcing the blockade for over three years, the coalition has not produced any evidence for allegations that its embargo is necessary to punish Qatar's supposed sponsorship of terrorism. The soon-to-be-announced climbdown is a clear recognition that the coalition has failed to prove its case among the international community, coming under pressure from the United States among others to end what is now seen as a cynical attempt to undermine an increasingly successful Qatar through subterfuge.

This is not the first time that members of this coalition, particularly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, have united to try to destabilise Qatar. This Middle Eastern Cold War can be traced back to February 1996, when an attempted coup to overthrow the then Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, was foiled by Qatar's intelligence service, who uncovered links between the plotters and the conservative Gulf monarchies of Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and UAE. The Qatari Emir had been implementing important reforms, including making steps towards a democratically elected Parliament and a radical strengthening of its press freedom, leading to the creation of the news network Al Jazeera in November of that year. Such freedoms were seen as potentially destabilising for Qatar's rivals in the region who were reluctant to make similar changes.

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This fear of Qatar's bold moves towards freedom and democracy lasts to this day. As the former MEP Dan Hannan put it, Saudi Arabia "besieged Qatar for daring to have an independent TV station". The coalition's list of demands to lift the blockade included shutting down Al Jazeera and its affiliate stations, and the insistence that Qatar align its "military, political, social and economic policies with the other Gulf and Arab countries" – in other words, stop your modernisation and limit your sovereignty or else.

Amongst other things, Qatari economic liberalisation leading to rapid wealth creation, its fiercely independent foreign policy and its growing military ties with the United States, hosting the largest US military base in the Middle East, has drawn the fire of disinformation campaigns from both the UAE and Saudi Arabia who are clearly worried about its rising influence. Seeking both to isolate Qatar internationally by smearing it as a belligerent actor in the region and encouraging unrest in the country by inciting another coup, Saudi Arabia has deployed thousands of fake social media accounts, trolls, and "co-opted influencers" to spread anti-Qatar narratives around the globe.

Such efforts were designed to justify first the blockade and then to provide the prelude to a Saudi-led ground invasion of Qatar to topple its reforming government, seeking to end the threat of change in the region. This insane idea was reportedly kiboshed by a horrified United States that is moving ever closer to Qatar and edging away from its erstwhile Saudi partners, who are beginning to be regarded as "the ally from hell".

The lifting of the blockade, last month dubbed 'illegal' by a UN special rapporteur, suggests the Saudi Royal Family are concerned about their deteriorating relationship with the US and marks a distinct moment in this conflict, a vindication of Qatar's steadfast refusal to back down in the face of unlawful aggression.

However, time will tell whether this also represents a shift towards normalising relations between the Gulf States, the ending of counter productive information warfare, and the beginning of an appreciation that wealth creation and success are not a zero sum game. If there can be an understanding that Qatar does not have to lose for the other Gulf monarchies to win, then a rising tide will lift all boats in the region and Qatar's victory will be seen as turning point in Middle East prosperity.

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