Tuesday, July 14, 2009


One of the downsides of when I lived in Bermuda is that you were in this small island nation and there was nowhere else to go. There were no other nearby islands or pieces of land so if you wanted to get away you had to fly somewhere. There was nowhere to drive except for the ~50 sq km that made up Bermuda so it was not long before you saw pretty much all of it.

Now Qatar is much bigger than Bermuda, I think ~11,000 sq km, but it borders only one other country -- Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates is close to Qatar but there is about 25 km of Saudi Arabia in between the UAE and Qatar. So for me to drive to the UAE I would have to cross the border into Saudi Arabia, then cross the border from Saudi Arabia to the UAE. Needless to say Saudi Arabia is not a huge tourist destination which loves having foreign visitors drive-through for a couple of hours. To be allowed to drive through to the UAE I would need to get a visa from the Saudi embassy allowing me to drive on that small stretch of road to the UAE border. I am not saying that is impossible, many people have obtained the Visa and drove to the UAE and vice versa. It is just not a simple procedure so for most of us non-Gulf Arabs it is much easier to just fly to the UAE, Bahrain or wherever. Maybe one day I will get the Visa just to say that I have been to Saudi Arabia but until then Qatar is essentially an island much like Bermuda.

Now I always wondered why Saudi Arabia had this small stretch of land between Qatar and the UAE. I know that it was not always the case. You can occasionally find maps showing Qatar and the UAE having a connecting border, and I believe the map you see on Qatar Airways flights also shows the connected border. My understanding, but I do not recall where I got the story from, was that sometime in the 70s (Qatar and the UAE gained independence from Britain in 1971) Saudi Arabia just moved in with some troops or tanks or whatever and just took the land for their own. This seemed plausible to me as there were many border disputes between the Arab nations in the early days. It even made me speculate that it was one of the reasons why the US military base was conveniently placed near the road between the Saudi border and Doha, to discourage any further land grabs.

But yesterday I decided to do a bit of research to get more of the story. It appears that I may have an incorrect in my assumptions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE negotiated a treaty in 1974 giving Saudi Arabia that stretch of land. You can find a translation of the treaty here on this United Nations website.

Geez, you learn something new everyday. I guess that means that I will not be seeing an easier drive to the UAE any time soon.

Now there must be more to the story or else there would not be maps that still show the old border. Maybe Saudi took the land by force before 1974 and with its superior firepower "negotiated" the treaty? Maybe it is because Qatar was not part of the treaty negotiations and felt it should have a say in the matter? Maybe with the strip of land came some recently found oil reserves everyone now wants? I think I'll ask around and see what the Qataris know about it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Per Wiki, the treaty has never been ratified by the UAE


Also: http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC05.php?CID=2431

Historical Background

The origins of the tension go back two centuries to when the al-Nahyans of Abu Dhabi (now the rulers of the lead emirate of the UAE) and the al-Sauds, now the rulers of Saudi Arabia, were merely rival tribes. The al-Nahyan, then impoverished pearl-divers and herdsmen, accepted al-Saud dominance though they resisted the al-Saud's strict Wahhabi version of Islam. The focus of much of the rivalry was the Buraimi Oasis, a fertile jewel in an otherwise barren desert. Just over fifty years ago, Saudi forces seized the oasis, reportedly with the backing of U.S. oil companies that argued Riyadh had a territorial claim to it. When international arbitration failed, the Saudis were expelled forcibly by Abu Dhabi and Omani troops acting with British support.

In 1974, the newly formed UAE, led by Sheikh Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi, agreed to a treaty in Riyadh with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (the father of Prince Turki, now the Saudi ambassador to Washington; Faisal was assassinated the following year). Saudi Arabia was given a strip of coastline between the UAE and Qatar, and control over most of the discovered but then unexploited Shaybah Oil Field, along with 100 percent of its revenues. The Buraimi Oasis apparently was ceded to the UAE, where it is now known as Al Ain. "Apparently" is the operative word because a map published on the website of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows Buraimi still to be in Saudi territory, along with several parts of neighboring Oman and Yemen (view the map). Indeed, this is the shape of Saudi Arabia represented in outline on the pages of Saudi passports.