FILE - A general view of the Corniche Towers is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 5, 2019.
FILE - A general view of the Corniche Towers is seen in Doha, Qatar, Feb. 5, 2019.

DOHA - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt moved this week to restore mail service to Qatar in another sign that the embargo imposed by four Sunni Arab states nearly three years ago is starting to crumble.

The four conservative allies--all opponents of the Arab Spring uprisings-- objected to Doha's support for regional opposition groups ranging from dissident liberals to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

These countries also object to Qatar's ongoing diplomatic and trade ties with Iran, with which it shares the world's largest gas field.

The UAE had already resumed services to Qatar on February 9, according to the Universal Postal Union, the U.N. agency responsible for coordinating global postal services.

"I warmly welcome the resumption of international postal exchanges between these countries via transit through Oman," said UPU director general Bishar Hussein, speaking at the organization's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Sultanate of Oman and Kuwait declined to join the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in June 2017.

Oman and Kuwait continue to support mediation efforts to rebuild unity in the now fractured Gulf Cooperation Council.

Yet Qatar remains under a sea, air and land blockade.

Both outside analysts and the Doha business community widely characterize the embargo as a backfiring failure as Qatar presses ahead with internal reforms that have strengthened its economy.

International Monetary Fund forecasters say Qatar's annual growth rate in real gross domestic product will slightly outpace both the Emirates and Saudi Arabia this year.

The World Bank cites the country's "ambitious program to improve its business regulation" as the reason it awarded Qatar a ranking spot in the top 20 global business environment improvers.

"Fundamentally, the Saudis and the Emiratis miscalculated Qatar's ability to quickly reroute supplies and how far their large sums of money can go in this day and age," said Harry Verhoeven, an Oxford postdoctoral fellow and a former assistant professor at Georgetown University's Doha campus.

Baladna Dairy began operations within a month after Qatar’s neighbors cut off ties and imposed a trade blockade. More than 18,000 cows were transported from the U.S. to the gulf state by airplane and ship. (Courtesy: Aladdin Idilbi)

The gas-rich emirate has a sovereign wealth fund valued at $320 billion.

"They also underestimated Qatar's ability to use the embargo to do things they should have done a long time ago," Verhoeven added. "They invested in products they can make themselves, and the emir leveraged the embargo to implement measures which economists long argued he should have put in place."

Doha has facilitated contacts between the U.S. and Iran, as well as between Washington and armed Islamist groups, including the Afghan Taliban and Palestinian Hamas.

"This issue will stay with us, and we have to manage it in a better way until we reach a future stage," said UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies' Gulf Security Symposium in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

"It [the embargo came] as a result of Doha's interference policies," Gargash said, "the solution for this crisis should be based on dealing with the causes of it."

Qatar continues to rebuff the blockading states' demands to shut down the Al Jazeera TV network and to stop its independent role in international relations.

The country has paid the price for its single-mindedness.

When the blockading nations cut diplomatic and economic ties, they banned Qatar Airways from flying to their countries and from using their airspace.

Qatar Airways flights are often routed over Iran and Iraq to avoid flying over Saudi airspace. (Jacob Wirtschafter/VOA)

Longer routes to avoid flying over Saudi, Emirati, and Egyptian airspace added significantly to Qatar Airways' fuel costs . The  airline reported a $640 million loss for the year to March 31, 2019, in accounts released on January 15.

Yet the carrier has responded by increasing its holdings in other international carriers.

Last week Qatar Airways lifted its stake in British Airways' parent company IAG SA to 25%. It already has shares in Chile's LATAM Airlines Group, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways, and Rwanda’s flag carrier, RwandAir.

"There are hopes that the crisis will end in light of Saudi Arabia hosting the G20 summit and the meetings taking place between the Saudis and Qatar, but recent [UAE ] media attacks indicate that the crisis is far from being over," said Abdullah Baabood an Omani national and professor at the Middle East Institute at the University of Singapore .

"This is a very personalized and manufactured crisis," said Baabood referring to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and his Saudi counterpart Mohammed bin Salman. "So it could end just how it started--with one quick decision by the leaders."

Meanwhile, as Qatar prepares to host the 2022 World Cup, there are signs that sports also play a role in the slow withering away of the embargo.

In December, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Emirates sent soccer teams to Doha for Arabian Gulf Cup games, effectively violating their own travel ban.

"Qatar favored the establishment of a powerful economic consensus among the GCC countries. That is why most of the products came from these countries," said Ramez Al-Khayyat, 35, whose company, Power Holding International, supervised the construction of Khalifa International Stadium, one of the main venues for the World Cup.

Al-Khayyat said that before the embargo, Qatar bought about 60% of its pharmaceuticals from Saudi Arabia and the UAE and 80% of its dairy products from Saudi Arabia as a matter of policy.

41-year-old homemaker Aman Qadodora says that after the insecurity caused by a blockade of neighboring states she’s relieved to find local products at her neighborhood grocery store. (Jacob Wirtschafter/VOA)

"Their actions ended up encouraging us to build this dairy [industry], which we had up and running within five months," said Al-Khayyat, whose new company "Baladna" now supplies more than 60 percent of market needs for milk and dairy products.

"The blockade meant to harm us, but Qatar succeeded in transferring it into an advantage for both our consumers and companies," Al-Khayyat said.

 

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