A deadline passed and nobody blinked, so now a high-stakes geopolitical feud in the Middle East looks set to stretch further into the summer.
The confrontation between Qatar and its neighbours worsened on Wednesday as four Arab nations vowed to press ahead with the punishing air, sea and diplomatic blockade they imposed one month ago after they accused Qatar of financing terrorism and working too closely with Iran. Qatar rejected an ultimatum that expired on Tuesday to meet a long list of demands.
Meeting in Cairo, foreign ministers from the four blockading countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — said they were “disappointed” by the response to their demands, and stepped up their criticism of Qatar, which they say is meddling in the affairs of their countries.
“Qatar’s role as a saboteur can no longer be forgiven,” said Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry.
The four countries have issued 13 demands, including the closing of Al-Jazeera, Qatar’s influential television channel, and, more broadly, the abandonment of Qatar’s foreign policy, which includes support for a wide variety of Islamist factions.
In London, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, accused his country’s foes of “clear aggression” and said Qatar was ready for a lengthy standoff, having developed new supply routes for imports. He singled out Saudi Arabia and the Emirates as the main foes of Qatar, accusing them of seeking to make it surrender its sovereignty.
That, he said, “Qatar will never do.”
The confrontation could have grown even more serious. But defying expectations, the ministers gathered in Cairo avoided imposing new sanctions on Qatar. The blockading countries said they would meet in Bahrain soon to consider their next steps.
“Such significant decisions cannot be taken swiftly,” said the foreign minister of Bahrain, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. “The decision will be taken at the right time.”