In a wave of reconciliation sweeping across the Gulf States, the United Arab Emirates has reopened its borders and airspace to Qatar after boycotting the small energy-rich country alongside its Gulf allies since 2017.
Further, Saudi Arabia has announced the reopening of its airspace and borders with Qatar. National carrier Qatar Airways said it had started to reroute some flights through Saudi airspace, with the first flight over Saudi skies from Doha to Johannesburg on 8 January.
The move comes after Saudi Arabia declared a breakthrough in settling the years long rift with Qatar during the annual Gulf summit this week, saying the kingdom would restore diplomatic ties and that its allies would follow suit.
Associated Press reports that the UAE indicated that its restoration of full diplomatic relations with Qatar would take longer. The report said the UAE is continuing talks to “end all other outstanding issues.” Opposition to Qatar’s support for Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood runs deeper in the UAE than in Saudi Arabia, which is primarily concerned with Qatar’s close ties with regional foe Iran.
Bahrain and Egypt, which had joined the UAE and Saudi Arabia in isolating Doha, have yet to publicly elaborate on their pledges to ease the boycott signed this week in the ancient Saudi desert site of al-Ula.
The four Arab states severed commercial and diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing the country of financing extremist groups in the region, charges that Doha denies.
It was believed that the boycott pushed Qatar closer to Iran, by for instance forcing Qatar Airways to change routes through Iranian skies. It is estimated that this has given the Islamic Republic hundreds of millions of dollars in overflight fees.
The reopening of Saudi and Emirati airspace to Qatar is critical as the country prepares to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which is expected to draw over 1 million foreign soccer fans.
ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu also welcomed the new developments from the Gulf, recalling that the ICAO Secretariat, through its Regional Office in Cairo, had rapidly established contingency routes to ensure the safety and regularity of international flights in and out of Qatar when the restrictions were first imposed.
“We were grateful to fulfil this important role when called upon,” she noted, “and to help assure that international air transport in the affected areas remained as safe, secure, and efficient as possible while the restrictions were in force.”