Saudi Arabia Will Further Isolate Qatar By Physically Turning It Into An Island

Filed Under: Qatar, Saudia

12 months ago, several Arab countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing them of destabilising the region, by backing militant groups including the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda. These countries included:

  • Saudi Arabia
  • Bahrain
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Egypt

The most notable consequence of this severing of ties in our ‘space’ is that it suddenly meant there were no flights between these countries. Emirates, Etihad, Saudia, Gulf Air, EgyptAir, FlyDubai and Air Arabia all immediately ceased flights to Qatar, and also Qatar Airways was forced to cease flights to these countries as well.

This blockade has had some interesting side effects for Qatar Airways:

I don’t profess to know a lot about the intricacies of Middle-Eastern politics (miles and points is my expertise), but I must admit I had (perhaps naively) thought the Qatar blockade would have been resolved by now. The national airline and imports are so important to the tiny, wealthy nation of Qatar that I had imagined the countries would have come to some sort of agreement by now.

Qatar has shown how desperate it is to be ‘on the map,’ both by investing massive amounts of money in its national airline, airport and infrastructure, as well as winning the right to host major global sporting events, like the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

But 12 months in, the restrictions remain, and is about to get even worse.

The Saudia Arabia / Qatar border

Qatar shares a 48 mile/61 km border with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia / Qatar Border (Source: Asia Maps)

Business Insider is reporting that Saudi Arabia is planning to dig a canal along the length of this border, turning Qatar into an island, tentatively called the ‘Salwa Channel.’

Five international construction companies have been invited to bid for the work. The canal is expected to be 200 metres wide and around 20 metres deep and will cost around $750 million.

Saudi Arabia has no shortage of money to pay for this project. While Qatar is the world’s richest nation per person, Saudi Arabia is number 14.

Saudia Arabia plans to complete the canal by the end of this year.

As a final slap in the face to tourism-desperate Qatar, Saudi Arabia hopes this canal will have a dual purpose — it will both isolate Qatar physically, as well as be a tourism attraction for Saudi Arabia, with resorts planned for the Saudi side of the canal. The canal will be well within the Saudi territory, to avoid further escalations over land ownership.

I imagined this would create an unusual ‘no mans land’ strip on the Qatar side of the canal, where it would technically be Saudi Arabian land, with no easy way for Saudi Arabia to access it. But no, Saudi Arabia is planning to use this strip as both a military base, and a nuclear waste dump.

A resort area in such an ultra-conservative country, overlooking a nuclear waste dump sure will be a niche market.

I wouldn’t hold your breath for a St. Regis to be constructed.

Here is what the new border between the two countries would look like, with the canal constructed.

Proposed Canal (Source: Gulf News)

Saudi Arabia has already closed this border to land crossings to Qatar.

Qatar Airways A380 on board bar

Bottom line

The Qatar blockade has now lasted 12 months and shows no signs of easing. This latest bold plan by Saudi Arabia will further isolate Qatar, both physically and symbolically.

What do you make of Saudi Arabia turning Qatar into an island?

  1. I’m sorry but this might be just about the dumbest sh*t I’ve ever read. No insult to you, James, sometimes in the modern element I feel like a news story is just a hoax waiting to be uncovered as such. I suppose we’ll see, all I can say is I’m bringing my Geiger counter to any Saudi resort I visit!

  2. Man, and I thought the Arabs had problems with the Israelis. They can’t even get along amongst themselves! This makes the centuries old Catholic split between the east and the west look tame.

  3. Saudia is jelly on Qatar Airways for being a better airline, that’s why Saudi Arabia is doing this. Saudia wants to act like Beyonce, but their work ethic is nothing like Beyonce.

  4. The Onion?

    As for the blockade: the rift between nations backing KSA and nations backing Iran will growth further over the coming months and years. The outcome of the Iran deal will be quite influential. If Iran is abandoned by the other parties to the agreement too, then Iran & QR will effectively be on their own. If the other parties to the Iran deal stand by Iran, then we’re looking at an EU+Iran v US+KSA.

    PS: Maybe KSA should stop financing cells too…

  5. I thought this was a hoax too but it could just as easily be a new idea from the Donald in which we should be expecting a trump resort and perhaps a new plutonium tier in their loyalty program.

  6. A similar situation occurred in 1974 with the so-called “Treaty of Jeddah” whereby Saudi Arabia “claimed” the southern rim of the Khor Adaid area from the then fledgling UAE, thus eliminating the erstwhile land border between the Emirate of Abu Dhabi and Qatar.

    This remains a contentious issue till today as the UAE has never actually ratified the so-called treaty and maintains a passive dispute over the territory.

  7. Isn’t this the same story that was on BA yesterday with the monkey blog? It’ll never happen – total pr stunt. US would block in a heartbeat

  8. Not airline related, not really hotel related, non-news in the points/travel tourism world.. Please keep to the excellent travel/points related posts instead please!

  9. Click bait. And nothing to do with airline points or mile. Please stop. Also, the way you characterize Qatar as desperate shows bias in your writing. Qatar could easily take their money, and develop their side of the canal as well.

  10. They are talking about this canal sine the 90s! it’s just propaganda. and James I don’t appreciate the condescending and negative way you talk about Qatar

  11. Saudis must be really with them for the real news al Jezerra puts out.

    will they be installing a toll bridge too?

    petty little savages

  12. The Arab-Israeli stuff gets a ton of press because it plays well for Western ears. It’s simple, taps into people’s biases, etc. But it’s silly (and wrong) to think of the Arabic Muslim world as a monolithic bloc. There is of course the Sunni-Shia divide that puts Iran on one side and much of the rest of the middle east on the other, but there is also the continuing fights for dominance between the countries of the region. This is as important (or more in some cases) to the Arabs than Israel, which is why Saudi Arabia and Israel are reaching a rapprochement lately.

  13. @ Mohammed – how was I condescending towards Qatar? I called them the world’s wealthiest nation!

  14. What is with the hate towards James? This is a really interesting article, and James is not at all condescending towards either side, he is just stating the facts. And these “rumors” are actually facts, as reported by the Washington Post, among other sources. And elaborating on why it is more difficult to fly to Qatar is not only relevant to the points and miles world, but also quite interesting. Keep up the good work, James.

  15. @ Mohammed – how was I condescending towards Qatar? I called them the world’s wealthiest nation!

    I’m going to speak for Mohammed and assume he means comments like these below, where you called Qatar desperate, twice. As the wealthiest nation in the world, I doubt they’re “desperate” for anything but that’s just my opinion:

    Qatar has shown how desperate it is to be ‘on the map,’

    As a final slap in the face to tourism-desperate Qatar

  16. “What is with the hate towards James? This is a really interesting article”

    That may be, but the question is, is it relevant to this site?

  17. Aaron, K and Mohammed +1
    I totally agree that this blog needs to enlighten us with points, promotions and latest airline news. I don’t see how this news nests comfortably within the above categories.

  18. Well, this is relevant for people planning travel to this part of the world, and also people interested in the airlines involved. James’ point is that the riff, which most people thought would be short-lived, seems to be drawing on.

    This is similar, in some ways, to the US-Turkey visa scandal from last year. People who wanted to visit Turkey definitely followed the political drama as it unfolded.

    I don’t think James meant to dis Qatar or any other country. Sure maybe “desperate” wasn’t the best choice of words, but let’s give him a little bit of a break, he meant no harm.

  19. @ Boco, @ Jay – okay, ‘desperate’ wasn’t the best choice of word to use. What I meant is that Qatar have tried very hard, and spent a lot of money to encourage tourists to visit Qatar. It’s been very successful – I visited last year for the first time and had a great experience there.
    I would not hesitate to visit Qatar again, blockade or no-blockade.

  20. @ HT – the Gulf blockade is very relevant to the miles and points space. I would love to use my Avios to fly from CAI to DOH but cannot because Qatar can no longer fly there.
    There hasn’t been much news on the blockade lately and this latest step to dig the canal suggests the blockade is here to stay.

  21. “Well, this is relevant for people planning travel to this part of the world”

    Only if you are planning to visit the Saudi/Qatar border, I suppose…

    “the Gulf blockade is very relevant to the miles and points space. I would love to use my Avios to fly from CAI to DOH but cannot because Qatar can no longer fly there.”

    It might have worked better had you brought that up or presented the article through that particular angle…

  22. Let me also say as someone that is currently living here, it is very frustrating because right now, if I want to fly back to the US, I really only have but 5 airlines I could use.

    And that is Qatar, Royal Jordanian, British Airways [all one world], RAM (partners with QR) and Turkish.

    Also, for example if I wanted to fly to Kuwait (one hr 30), the flight used to be maybe $150. Ever since the blockade the price point is consistent for round trip anywhere from $400-$500. Plus most other flights to Europe are consistently ranging on Qatar Airways at about $1000 for economy and nearly $2000 to the states if you are based out of here in Doha whereas if you are only connecting thru Doha (i.e. from Kuwait or Sri Lanka), the tickets are significantly cheaper. I remember not too long ago I saw business class tickets on QR from Sri Lanka to Philadelphia for under $3,000 where out of Doha, the ticket cost is at $5,500-$6,000

    I know people that have had to go from here in Doha to Muscat and then onward to Dubai with that ticket consistently costing $600-$700 and a 5 hour travel time where it used to be $100-$150 and a 45 minute flight.

    Not only that, currently at Hamad, a lot of the other major players (Lufthansa and KLM) have pulled out alongside the airlines within the blockading countries. So there is really not a lot of competition here anymore and if this blockade keeps on, it is going to be like that for a long time.

    @James..if you want to use your avios, I wonder if BA would let you find space on RJ to try and complete the journey.

  23. Excellent writing as well as news for the site, keep up the good work James! BTW, regarding the debate about what you should write about or not, you used a very detailed, descriptive and clear title, people have the freedom to choose what to click on from the homepage, no bait was used here, only good writing.

  24. @James – Desperate is exactly the right word to use. There’s no other way to describe their actions – they are clearly desperate to be on the world stage, hence the ridiculous sums spent on Qatar airways, FIFA etc.

    I’m desperate for many things to happen – the only people who would object to that word describing them are arrogant, pompous show-offs who care only about status.

  25. I’d rather read this story than another post about the Iberia deal and why someone did it or didn’t or if they will honor it or wont. Keep these stories coming James.

  26. “but I must admit I had (perhaps naively) thought the Qatar blockade would have been resolved by now.”

    If history is any indicator this will turn deadly before it gets better, Egypt involved in this is like the pot calling the kettle black, and I naively thought the whole holy wars thing would have taught the region something …it didn’t.

  27. You forgot to mention the blockade has caused Qatar Airways to finally tell the truth about how broke the airline is. The airline was forced to succumb to US pressure and open its books because of the blockade, this then showed Big Sheikh Al Baker for the liar he is, all the time telling the customers the airline was solvent when in fact it isn’t.

    And you forgot to mention, to pay for the lies and the blockade, they slugged their Frequent Flyer program customers with the biggest devaluation in airline history, virtually doubling the points required for flights, done overnight with no notice in a savage and brutal way.

    They charge for award tickets, Platinums get bugger-all benefits and now pay for everything for simply being loyal to a middle-eastern airline. Because of the blockade, the program is now worthless.

    And they continue to call it an “enhancement”.

    They just cannot stop lying which makes me think Saudia Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and UAE were probably right in blockading these mongrels for “destabilising the region, by backing militant groups including the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda”.

  28. Saudi Arabia, an example of democracy, freedom and with no ties to terrorist groups. What a joke.

  29. As a resident of Qatar most people here can only laugh at Saudi in their desperate attempt to bring Qatar down.
    Qatar has now become a stronger more independent nation since (even if the flight prices have gone up!)
    So the illegal blockade is really just backfiring on Saudi

  30. “were probably right in blockading these mongrels”

    Careful, your bigotry is starting to seep through your (already incredibly) biased post…

  31. Much as I love your posts, James, this one was probably poor judgment. Most people in Saudi just laugh at this suggestion. It’s just meant to be an insult, not an actual concrete plan (ie. the plan itself is the insult – it’s not an actual plan). You probably have to understand how Gulf Arabs think and talk to get this…

  32. That’s a political post right there, don’t try to pretend it has anything to do with travel.
    It’s posts like this and the comments that follow that have really put me off this blog, when was the last time you had an airline review?

    I’m done with this blog.

  33. Per @AL above – a 61KM canal, in 3 months?

    Pahahahahahahaaaaaaaa – did you even stop to think whether this was feasible before propagating such crud?

  34. Sorry @julia, I should have checked with you to obtain you agreement before I wrote it. Just because you don’t agree doesn’t mean it’s bigotry. This is the problem with you people on the Left, if we don’t all agree with you it all of a sudden becomes “Bigotry” or “Homophobic” or “racist” or “Islamaphobic”.

    It has nothing to do with bigotry. It has everything to do with an airline that lied to it’s members, a CEO who is a liar and a possibility that Saudia Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt were correct in their assumption: “destabilising the region, by backing militant groups including the Islamic State (IS) and Al-Qaeda”.

  35. @ass – there is always some a-hole to bring President Trump into the fray no matter what the subject is.



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