There is a crisis in the Middle East you may not know much about. It’s a bitter fight among American allies that has the potential to unravel the U.S.-led coalition that is battling ISIS and trying to contain Iran. At the center of the dispute is the tiny nation of Qatar, home to the busiest and most vital American air base in the region. On June 5th, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain launched a suffocating economic and political blockade against Qatar, accusing the country of funding terrorism and cozying up to Iran. Qatar has denied and denounced the charges. The target of the nearly five-month-old siege is Qatar’s 37-year-old emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who is now facing the challenge of saving his country.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar’s emir, and 60 Minutes Correspondent Charlie Rose CBS NEWS
Qatar is per capita the richest nation on earth. Its wealth, reflected in the gleaming skyline of its capital Doha, is derived from the world’s largest natural gas field. But the country’s very existence was threatened on June 5th when the blockade was imposed by four countries that loom over Qatar, a country that is smaller than Connecticut and has a population of 3 million, only 300,000 of whom are native citizens. In an instant, Saudi Arabia closed Qatar’s only land crossing. Not long ago hundreds of trucks a day flowed through this border post. Now, there is only dust. Sheikh Tamim, Qatar’s young emir, had to steady a stunned and skittish nation.
Sheikh Tamim: More than 90 percent of our goods, food, medicine comes from the land. And this was blocked. Students were kicked out from those countries. Patients were kicked out from hospitals.
Charlie Rose: So Qataris who were in that country were ordered home?
Sheikh Tamim: Were ordered home, yes.
In an interview earlier this month in his office in Doha, the emir told us he didn’t see the blockade coming.
Sheikh Tamim: Charlie, it was a shock. It was a shock because a few weeks before that, we were meeting, all of us together, in one room, including President Trump. And we were discussing terrorism, financing terrorism. And nobody brought any concern from those countries. Nobody told me anything.
Charlie Rose: So this is a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The president’s there…
Sheikh Tamim: Exactly.
Charlie Rose: And no one suggested they had reason to launch an attack against you?
Sheikh Tamim: Nothing. It was actually the opposite. We were praising each other, laughing with each other. Discussing, you know, how to solve this terrorism that is a threat for the rest of the world.
Charlie Rose: What do you think this is about? Because this is a conflict that has as much power to disrupt the region as anything that’s happened politically in a while. So why are they doing it? For what purpose?
Sheikh Tamim: They don’t like our independence, the way how we are thinking, our vision for the region. We want freedom of speech for the people of the region. And they’re not happy with that. And so they think that this is a threat to them.