Eritrea and Qatar Gambling Years: Mid 2000 – 06/2017
To Eritreans, Qatar might not be considered as an honest country when it comes to its diplomatic relationship with Eritrea for the last two decades. At the same time, it is not secret to know Qatar’s generous resourceful pocket channel to the hands of Eritrea’s brutal dictatorial regime. Without a doubt, this huge financial aid must have contributed immensely to sustain the oppressive power of the government despite political crisis, self-inflicted diplomatic isolation, continuous border conflicts with neighbouring countries and UN sanctions.
Qatar landed Eritrea in early 2000’s to exploit Eritrea’s strategic location in the Red Sea and use it as a possible access line to Somalia. With the help of Qatar, Somalia succeeded to establish Islamic courts. In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia for its own security reasons which has later severed its diplomacy with Qatar. A border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti happened in 2008. In 2009, Eritrea was accused by UN in relation to Al-Shabab links. These developments opened the gate to Qatar’s presence in the Horn of Africa at the expense of Eritrean sovereignty.
Since 2008, Qatar played a major role to backup Eritrea’s aggressive and wild military endeavour by pretending as a mediator and guarantor of peace talks between Eritrea and Djibouti in the border conflict that was erupted between the two aforementioned countries. At sometimes, it acted as a main diplomatic supporter to Eritrean government when Eritrea was accused of systematic and widespread amounted to crimes against humanity. When UN sanctioned Eritrea for its role to destabilize the Horn of Africa and its acts against Djibouti, Qatar has covered Eritrea’s government by creating a camouflaged mediation and peaceful resolution role. The relationship between Eritrea and Qatar heightened when Qatar cut its diplomacy with Ethiopia in 2008.
Qatar’s Aggressive Relationship
While maintaining its presence in the economically disadvantaged and unstable country, Qatar started to exploit Eritrea’s human resources and unexplored islands. One: it started to import skilled workers from Eritrea to work in diverse economic activities under a very strict contract between two governments. Two: in 2007, it started to build a lavish resort centre in the Dahlak Island. Three: it helped Eritrea to have Airline flights access via Doha under the flagship of Qatar Airlines. Fourth: Qatar became a mediator in the peace talks between Eritrea and Djibouti. Fifth, before Eritrea, was accused of its involvement in Somalia and its aid to Al-Shabab, Qatar used Eritrea as a gate to supply logistics to Al-Shabab and other actors which were fighting in Somalia.
2. The Present
Eritrea and Qatar’s Crisis: 12 – 13/06/2017
There were no prior indications to predict what led Eritrea to decide against Qatar after all those 17 years of very close friendship to side in favour of Saudi Arabia coalition forces. With the end of Somali crisis, though Eritrea denied its involvement in the Yemeni crisis, joined its dirty hand in the Yemen crisis by officially supporting Saudi Arabia, UAE and other countries involvement in Yemen by providing sea port and air flight zones. UAE leased port access near Assab and renovated old Military airbase near Assab to use it for its military operation in Yemen.
Without closing the chapter of Yemen crisis, the Middle East has also witnessed another political and diplomatic crisis that is isolating Qatar from its historical friendly countries. The Saudi lead group(The Gulf countries and Egypt). These countries cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed land, sea and air blockade. To add fuel to the already burning political turmoil, Eritrea supported the decision taken by these countries against Qatar. On June 12, 2017, the only existing Government of Eritrea official website published the government’s position. It states:
“The decision that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have taken is not confined to Qatar alone – as the potential of Qatar is very limited. It is one initiative among many in the right direction that envisage full realization of regional security and stability. As such, it is not a matter that requires invitation of the Eritrean Government or solicitation of its vote. For the GOE, this is a timely issue that warrants its active support.”
Ministry of Information – Press Release
Since 1995, Eritrea has played its major role in destabilising the Horn of Africa. Its conflict with Sudan(1994-1995), Yemen (1995), Ethiopia(1998-2000), Djibouti (2008), its involvement in the Somali, Sudan and Yemen civil-war, as well as in destabilising Ethiopia’s internal security are indications on how much The ruling party of Eritrea is in a worrying mission. However, nothing has exposed its hypocritic mission in its recent more than Eritrea’s move across the Red Sea in order to find resourceful allies.
With increased pressure, both internally and externally, the government of Eritrea is forced to seek other surrogates other than Qatar to sustain its power. The tension created between Iran and Saudi Arabia is a fertile land to manipulate the situation at hand so that a nearby resourceful country can be friended to feed empty pockets of PFDJ. This game is played seriously after Gadaffi’s fall in Libya.
Qatar was a gift to Eritrea. As Eritrea could not sustain a “No war – No peace” situation with its neighbouring Ethiopia, it has to create a proxy frontier so that the tension can be diluted in between. It is within this strategic manipulation that Qatar and Eritrea became allies. In fact, it was not an innocent one. It was simply diplomatic hypocrisy.
As the issue of Somalia became in favour of Ethiopia and the world community condemned Al-Shabab, the two countries had to confine themselves into a pseudo-diplomatic tie. With the birth of Yemeni crisis, Eritrea joined the coalition led by Saudi Arabia. This Sunni-dominated country had to ridicule itself with the Shiite-dominated Iran. Eritrea is participating in the war by leasing port to UAE. for 30 or more years. UAE started to build new military base near Assab in 2015.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman hosted Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki on April 28, 2015 (credit: Saudi Press Agency)
Parallel to this, Eritrea strengthened its diplomatic relationship with Egypt. Egypt is using Eritrea to put pressure on Ethiopia so that its dam project can be terminated. Ethiopia has accused Egypt of its move to build a military base in Eritrea.
These developments strengthened the link between Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt with Eritrea. Once Saudi broke its diplomacy with Qatar, Eritrea had no other option than taking side with Saudi. This sudden diplomatic manoeuvre left Qatar in a disarray. The time Eritrea took its decision, Qatar did not take time to denounce Eritrea.
14/06/2017: Eritrea – Qatar Serious Diplomatic Developments
On 14/06/2017, Qatar has reacted seriously to Eritrea’s decision by withdrawing its peace-keeping forces from the disputed land of Eri-Djibouti. This decision might escalate tension between these two conflicting countries leading to serious consequences. Qatar might have a reason to withdraw, however, it is playing an international role as a trusted mediator and peace-keeping force between. Qatar could alert the world community before it withdrew. The world could have intervened to avoid the creation of such vacuum.
After withdrawal, Djibouti accused Eritrea of moving its military force to occupy the evacuated disputing place. In response, on 15/06/2017 an official letter from the government of Djibouti is sent to African Union(AU).
With the withdrawal of Qatar peace-keeping forces, Eritrea was accused of occupying the disputed land between the two countries. In response, the African Union called for ease of tensions and restrain from military actions.
3. The Future
It is not easy to predict what will bear these serious developments. Both Eritrea and Djibouti may not be interested in going into war. However, the complexity within the region can lead to unknown certainty. Djibouti and Eritrea are in the same coalition with the Saudi lead forces that is fighting in Yemen. This might have the advantage to ease tension as it is not for the advantage of Saudi Arabia and UAE. In addition, Egypt can take the place of Qatar and use it’s diplomatic tights with both countries to solve the crisis.
However, the case Ethiopia remains at stake. Egypt’s presence in the Horn is aimed to target Ethiopia’s Dam project. Considering Ethiopia’s strong economic bond with Djibouti, Egypt’s role can be complex enough to bring a lasting solution.
What can be good at this moment is Eritrea’s weakness. It is hard to imagine Eritrea to get into a war with any country at this time. If it does, the horn of Africa will be in a mess.
The Eritrean government is now known for its political gambling. What it does is not for the good of the country but to ease its pressure from its assumed enemies. The proxy war type diplomatic gambling is weakening its capacity to concentrate on its domestic issue. Not only this, instead of relying on international orders, Eritrea is trying to prolong its dispute in an indirect way. This is putting the country at a very complex diplomatic stand across the world.
The people of Eritrea has no say for whatever decision is taken by the government. Governments like Qatar may take revenge seriously that can have a direct impact to the ordinary people. For this, Qatar should separate the people of Eritrea from the government. So far, Qatar was guilty by cooperating with the government of Eritrea. Eritrean people have counted on them.
Now, the people needs support fo Qatar so that justice can prevail. The people of Eritrea might not be happy with the action taken by Qatar to pull its peace-keeping force. That is ok. What Eritreans are looking now is that Any Eritrean who lives in Qatar, be it in a skilled work contract base or other businesses, Qatar should give them a full grant so that Eritreans can work freely. Such moves can help Eritrean people to reconcile with Qatar government so that its past actions against the people to be forgiven.