By Prarthana Mitra
Amidst the diplomatic row between Qatar and the other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia announced that it would be going ahead with the plan to dig a canal that stands to separate the Qatari peninsula from the mainland. The feud which began 14 months ago now pivots on the question of whether or not Doha will take this lying down and its implications for the small Gulf nation which is already suffering from diplomatic sanctions.
“I am impatiently waiting for details on the implementation of the Salwa island project, a great, historic project that will change the geography of the region,” Saud al-Qahtani, a senior adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, said on Twitter.
Here’s what happened
The UAE, Bahrain and Egypt had also severed diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of harbouring and sponsoring terrorists and for being too close to Riyadh’s arch-rival, Iran. Although Doha has consistently denied these charges, it hasn’t prevented the Gulf states from cracking down on Qatari nationals and travel routes. Now with this move, the dispute enters muddy waters and pave the way for military intervention.
About the canal
The plan to build a channel was floated for the first time in April, when pro-government Sabq news website reported that a 60 kilometres long-canal would stretch across the kingdom’s border with Qatar. Part of the 200 metres wide-canal would be reserved for a planned nuclear waste facility, it further reported.
With a budget of 2.8 billion riyals ($750 million), five companies with expertise in canal-construction were invited to bid for the project. The names of the prospective bidders haven’t been released yet. But Makkah newspaper reported in June that the winner will be announced in September.
Why this matters
Without official confirmation from Saudi Arabia or reaction from Qatar, it is difficult to predict the fallout of this exercise. But Qatar has been shunned by nearly all its neighbours since last year, when its only land border was closed, its state-owned airline barred from using Gulf airspace, and Qatari residents expelled from the boycotting countries.
According to international media reports, mediation efforts led by Kuwait and the US, which has its largest Middle East air base in Qatar, have failed so far in resolving the dispute.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius