It’s back to normal. Or, almost. It’s surprising how we adapt to new situations and tend to forget what we have gone through when new situations arise.
Only a few days have passed since Qatar and the former blockading countries signed a reconciliation deal and, suddenly, we feel like living in a new world. A new world of peace and harmony. The strife, the enmity, the social media hatred, the diplomatic barbs, the gloom and pessimism we had seen for three and a half years have suddenly vanished.
Certainly, this is an occasion for everybody to celebrate. Who doesn’t love peace and harmony? Our leaders have worked really hard to achieve this rapprochement.
But the joy of every individual about the resolution to this crisis would be proportionate to how he or she has been affected by it. On this occasion, my thoughts are with one group who has suffered the most during the blockade – mixed families who were separated.
When you think about what they have gone through, their suffering and stress, everything else pales in comparison. The blockade hit them like an earthquake; for thousands of families and individuals, life was never the same again; families from mixed nationalities, with their spouses and children caught on either side of the Gulf divide, were ripped apart, and students had to cut short their education.
Affected individuals were forced to adapt to a swift separation, ultimatums, family conflicts and an unprecedented level of anxiety and uncertainty.
Their suffering continued after the blockade. A study by Doha International Family Institute (DIFI) found that mixed Gulf families not only suffered separation but familial conflicts and traumatic experiences when visiting family members in blockading states, fear for one’s safety and online abuse (DIFI, 2018).
Finally, these families will be able to reunite.
But it remains to be seen if these families will ever recover from the consequences of the blockade. Of course, affected individuals would be relieved by a détente in the GCC relations; however, their painful memories would not fade away. It might take a lifetime to rebuild what had been compromised.
Their losses and pain would be permanently engraved in their minds. They lost their main support system when they needed it most and missed their chance to visit a sick family member before their death. What was once a short journey to visit a family turned into a tedious and tortuous process. Some were hesitant to travel due to a fear for their own safety.
For children, it will be even harder. They will live with this trauma forever, their future marred by their past.
Unfortunately, a few won’t be able to celebrate at all. Because their separation became permanent during the crisis.
The reopening of borders will help repair some of this damage. This brings us to a much deeper issue; will those families have the same level of trust in a post-blockade era? Would families be separated again? Will a fear of the repetition of the past ruin their future? There are more questions than answers.
We have learnt many lessons from this crisis that would stay with us forever. Politics is never about politics, it’s about life, and all political decisions have far-reaching social consequences.
Before taking momentous decisions, Gulf leaders must think about the well-being of their people. Once social relations are severed, it will take a great deal more than a declaration and reopening of borders to resolve after years of fear and loss. The entire Gulf is a single family in every sense. Unfortunately, many former friends and relatives across the divide have now turned foes.
With this reconciliation, the GCC states have been compelled to honour and realise the interconnectedness of their populations, future, and fate. Gulf states cannot continue to strive to retain their global roles and neglect their shared duty and roles within the GCC.
Further, Gulf cities have become homes to a host of communities from all over the world, and decisions will affect families across all those communities.
One hopes that this thaw in relations will heal affected individuals, prioritise the well-being of families, and reinstate the trust once lost with the onset of the blockade.