After Saudi Arabia broke off relations with Qatar on June 5, Riyadh made clear it wanted nothing to do with its tiny Arab neighbor. Trade is cut off, planes headed to Qatar can’t fly through Saudi airspace, and now, even Qatari camels in Saudi Arabia must go.
After the deportation order was handed down, thousands of camels were trapped at the border for days with little food or water.
“The camels were starving. Some of the males were fighting and in very bad condition,” one irate Qatari camel owner told Reuters. “My brother still has 10 or 11 camels in Saudi Arabia.”
Qataris were furious after photos of famished camels appeared in local newspapers on June 19. Authorities sent caravans of provisions to relieve the stranded animals and have now set up temporary shelters.
A 5,500-mile-square peninsula in the Persian Gulf, Qatar has little land to pasture its camels, which are a backbone of traditional culture and recreation there. In the past, many Qatari families have simply pastured their camels in Saudi Arabia, traveling back and forth across the border to tend to their livestock.
About 15,000 Qatari camels have now left Saudi Arabia.
The break between Qatar and several Arab countries, including Egypt, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates, came amid heightened tensions over the Saudi-led war in Yemen aimed at ousting the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Qatar has rather cozy relations with Iran, the Saudi kingdom’s archenemy. Its state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera has also criticized Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which blocked it in late May.
Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations accused Qatar of financing terrorism, a charge Doha denies.
But camel herders want nothing to do with politics.
“We just want to live out our days, to go to Saudi Arabia and take care of our camels and go back and take care of our family,” the camel owner told Reuters.
(c) 2017, Foreign Policy · Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian