Few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia announced it was going ahead with its newest project, this time on the Arabian Gulf side. The Saudis aim to dig a massive water canal on their eastern border with Qatar, one kilometre from the official Saudi-Qatari border inside the kingdom. The canal is planned to be 60 kilometres long, 200 metres wide and up to 20 metres in depth. This 2.8 billion Saudi riyal (Dh2.74 billion) canal aims to bring two major effects to Saudi Arabia — political and economic.
This seems to be a mini copy of the Suez Canal of Egypt that today brings in huge transit revenues to Egypt. Currently, the UAE has not announced any participation in developing the proposed Salwa Water Canal. But personally, I don’t rule out a possibility of participation by UAE-based developers in building the canal, especially given the experience of successfully launching and developing the Dubai Water Canal that was completed in record time.
Economically, the canal is expected to bring in a considerable portion of sea trade and water tourism on the eastern shorelines of a fast-changing Saudi Arabia. The canal will house private beach villas, luxurious yacht piers, five-star hotels and resorts, sea ports on both banks, marina bays and other tourist attractions. The project will add thousands of jobs and act as a catalyst to Saudi economy. Water inflow will also help to create man-made coral reefs that will directly enhance tourism, under-water sports and maritime environment in that region.
The canal will also serve as a direct and a shorter shipping line access between main UAE sea ports, Dammam and Bahrain, all the way to Kuwait and Basra — avoiding the sensitive sea route that cuts between Qatar and Iran. This in turn will translate into less fuel, less travel time and, more importantly, a safer sea route from the UAE to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Politically, this is a massive setback for Qatar and its regime that is already struggling to cope with the aftermath of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) boycott. The canal physically and geographically isolates and cuts off Qatar from the rest of the mainland and GCC, turning Qatar from a peninsula to a little island. This will also seal Qatar’s only land border. Deep trenches are traditionally dug and used against enemy lines in war-like situations, and they have proved to be extremely effective and beneficial. I am not saying we are at war with Qatar yet. But, it seems all options are on the table with this canal coming into play in about 12 months. Let’s also not forget that Iranian and Turkish Forces are openly roaming around in Qatar, a move that has not been welcomed by Saudis, Emiratis and Bahrainis. The canal is like someone walking in from your front-yard and digging a massive cross-sectional trench that you cannot jump and cross. So you are stranded in your own house, which is on an island. It means cutting you off from the rest of your neighbourhood. To add to Qatari woes, Saudi Arabia has planned to establish an active military base in a hazardous nuclear waste dumping site on the Qatari side of the canal — which is still a Saudi territory.
Salwa Canal is a very smart, strong, crisp but silent message of the anti-terror Quartet of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to Qatar: That it needs to behave and stop harbouring terror and stop interfering in the internal affairs of other Arab countries. Else, there are plenty of options available that Doha would not even have imagined before.
The canal is a win-win for Saudi Arabia. In case Qatar’s regime gives up and agrees to all the conditions laid down by the anti-terror quarter, even then the canal will serve as a revenue generator and a tourism magnet for Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, if Qatar prefers to maintain status-quo and the rift continues to grow between, the canal will act as a first line of defence for the Saudis, as it locks Qatar on an island.
Dr Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, said in a Tweet that Salwa Water Canal is an open proof of Qatar’s failure in managing and resolving diplomatic crisis. It is fair to say Qatar has lost its Salwa border-crossing. Hence Salwa “Maaku”. In other words — Salwa, no more.
Hassan Sajwani is an Emirati writer on current affairs, regional politics, tech and business. Twitter @HSajwanization.