ABU SAMRA, QATAR-SAUDI ARABIA BORDER (Reuters) - Qatar’s normally bustling desert border with Saudi Arabia was eerily quiet on Monday, with a few dozen frustrated travellers bemoaning a rift between Gulf powers that has frozen movement across Qatar’s only land border.
A week after the frontier was shut by the Saudis who accuse Qatar of fomenting regional instability, soldiers in an armoured pick-up truck looked out over a barbed-wire fence at sprawling empty dustland separating Qatar from Saudi Arabia.
Indian migrants who work at the border in green uniforms lay on inspection platforms sheltering from the sun.
Normally, thousands of passengers and hundreds of trucks from Saudi Arabia pass through the crossing each day, bringing fruit and vegetables, as well as construction materials for projects that include stadiums for the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar is the world’s richest country per capita, with just 2.7 million residents and income from the world’s biggest exports of liquefied natural gas. Nearly 90 percent of its population are foreign guest workers, mostly from South Asia or poorer countries in the Middle East.
It imported most of its food from its bigger Gulf neighbours before they imposed the economic and diplomatic boycott, forcing Qatar to seek other routes for imports.
Qatar’s financial markets stabilised on Monday after a week of losses as the government showed it had ways to keep the economy running in the face of sanctions by other Gulf states.
At the land border, dozens of truck drivers had been stranded on the Qatari side. One Sri Lankan driver asked Qatari border guards if he could drive into Saudi Arabia if he agreed to leave his cargo, a tanker full of helium, behind in Qatar.
“We can do nothing,” the border guard told him. “Saudi has shut the border. There is no way to pass.”
Staff said the closing of the frontier had divided families. Last week, a Qatari woman was forced to hand her two-year-old son to her Saudi husband across the border after Saudi authorities said she could not enter, Sultan Qahtani, a Qatari police major, told Reuters in his office.
“Qataris were affected because they were unable to see their relatives in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. One of my relatives told me he was unable to travel to Saudi to attend the funeral of a poet,” he said.
“I pray to god that the Saudi border will be opened to preserve ties of kinship between Qataris and other GCC nationals. We must concentrate on these families who are apart now,” he said, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council, founded in 1981, which includes Qatar and its neighbours. Prominent Arabian tribes have lived for decades on both sides of the border.
On weekends, the land border is normally used by thousands of Saudis who cross to take advantage of Qatar’s laxer rules and stay in hotels that serve alcohol. A few miles from the border a vast sea-front complex with an aqua park and white-washed villas is being built by the Hilton hotel chain for Saudi tourists.
Editing by Peter Graff