The Qatar crisis, legitimacy, and the use of sanctions against terrorist financing


On June 5,2017, a coalition consisting ofSaudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Egypt instigated political and economic measures against Qatar, accusing the country of supporting and financing terrorist and extremist Islamist groups. These measures effected prohibitions on travel and residency, the provision of services, and the importation and exportation of goods.[1] They represented the culmination of an ongoing disagreement between the coalition countries and Qatar that had, in March 2014, seen Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar.

The diplomatic response in 2014 followed the tailure of a secret agreement signed in Riyadh in November 2013[2] in which Qatar had agreed not to support the Muslim Brotherhood or any other groups or individuals ‘that threaten the security and stability of the Council states.’ A supplemental agreement of January 2014 emphasised, inter alia, the obligation not to provide such groups with a safe haven, financial or other support, or a media platform.[3] In November 2014, a new agreement affirmed Qatar’s commitment to the first Riyadh Agreement aimed at preserving the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the stability and security of its individual states.[4] This agreement, however, proved to be just a

The Qatar crisis, legitimacy 245 temporary fix, and Qatar’s alleged failure to abide by its terms eventually resulted in the sanctions.

The measures imposed by the coalition are most appropriately characterised as unilateral sanctions. They are an attempt by a single state, or group of states, to exert their power to coerce another state to change its policies without relying on the collective authority of an international body, such as the United Nations (UN).[5] Their use by the coalition is interesting because, at least in the context of support for terrorism, the trend since 9/11 has been to move away from unilateral sanctions aimed at a national government towards multilateral, smart, or targeted sanctions aimed at specific groups or individuals (with the proviso that state officials are often within the list).[6] Thus, whilst their use is not novel, the coalition’s imposition of unilateral sanctions on Qatar runs counter to that trend and may be seen as a regressive response to the failure of the international community’s use of targeted sanctions against terrorist financiers who have allegedly found a safe haven in Qatar.

The question addressed by this chapter is whether this use of sanctions is a legitimate response to Qatar’s alleged failure to fulfil its international obligations on counter terrorism. The lack of publicly available, reliable information means it is not possible to reach a scholarly judgement regarding the allegations themselves. Other commentators have already carried out limited assessments,[7] from which it may be concluded that there is some substance to them but not sufficient to reach a definitive conclusion. As such, the starting point of this chapter is hypothetically to accept the veracity of the allegations and to focus on the legitimacy of the response. The chapter is divided into three parts. The first part explains the value of legitimacy and its importance to international relations. The second part considers the legality of the coalition’s use of sanctions. The third part considers the wider aspects of the legitimacy of the sanctions.

  • [1] Royal Embassy ofSaudi Arabia, ‘Kingdom ofSaudi Arabia Cuts Off Diplomatic and Consular Relations with the State of Qatar’ (, 5 June 2017); World Trade Organization, United Arab Emirates: Measures Relating to Trade in Goods and Services, and Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights: Request for the Establishment of a Panel By Qatar (WT/DS526/2, 2017).
  • [2] Hassan, I.K., ‘GCC’s 2014 crisis: Causes issues and solutions’ in Abdullah, J. and Chabkoun, M. (eds.), Gulf Cooperation Council’s Challenges and Prospects (Al Jazeera Center for Studies, 2015) 78,80.
  • [3] Sciutto, J. and Herb, J., ‘Exclusive: The secret documents that help explain the Qatar crisis’ CNN Politics (, 11 July 2017).
  • [4] Katzman, K., ‘Qatar: Governance, Security and US Policy’ Congressional Research Service Report (R44533, 2017) 8.
  • [5] Beaucillon, C., ‘Practice makes perfect, eventually? Unilateral state sanctions and the extraterritorial effects of national legislation’ in Ronzitti, N. (cd.), Coercive Diplomacy, Sanctions and International Law (Brill, 2016) 103, 104.
  • [6] Happold, M., ‘Economic sanctions and international law: An introduction’ in Happold, M. and Eden, P. (eds.), Economic Sanctions and International Law (Hart, 2016) 28, 34.
  • [7] Orton, K., Qatar and the Gulf Crisis (Henry Jackson Society, 2017) 30;Shideler, K., Froehlke, S., and Fischer, S., The Role of Select Non-Governmental Organizations in Doha’s Support for Terrorism (, 26 September 2017) 6; Nahecm, M.A., ‘The dramatic rift and crisis between Qatar and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) of June 2017’ (2017) 14 International Journal of Disclosure and Governance 265.
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