Qatar, Bahrain build friendship bridge
A look at how the Qatar-Bahrain causeway can overcome politics and forge closer ties.
Bahrain was accessible only by air or sea before Saudi Arabia built the 25km King Fahd Causeway in 1986, making the mainland archipelago accessible by land, while Qataris could only access Bahrain by road through Saudi Arabia.
But the possible construction of the Bahrain-Qatar Causeway could change the dynamics of the country drastically - politically, economically and socially.
The Arabic press has hailed the project as the new 'Al Mahabe Causeway', which means 'the Friendship Causeway'.
Plans for the causeway began in 2001, around the time when Qatar and Bahrain were in dispute over ownership of the Hawar Islands off the coast of Qatar.
Qatar based its claim to the islands on the principle of proximity and territorial unity, while Bahrain based its claim on a 1939 British decision granting it ownership. The islands, Qatar claimed, all lie within the 12 nautical mile limit of the Qatari coast, and most lie within a three nautical mile limit.
Bahrain said that it had exercised sovereignty over the Hawar uninterruptedly for two centuries, and that Qatar never exercised any competing authority. But, in addition to citing many examples of Bahraini links with the islands over the years, the country has also relied on the British decision of 1939.
The decision came about after Qatar claimed that Bahrain had illegally occupied the islands in 1937. The two sides both appealed to the British and the latter ruled in favour of Bahrain. Bahrain insisted that this amounted to an arbitration award.
In March 2001, the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of Bahrain, with the islands falling under Bahrain's sovereignty.
Speaking to Construction Week, Essam Khalaf, assistant undersecretary for roads, from the Bahrain Ministry of Public Works, shed some light on the long awaited road corridor to Qatar. Political issues between the two countries have delayed a decision on the project, with talks thought to have stagnated or even having collapsed, but Khalaf has confirmed that the project will go ahead.
"It is definitely going ahead, that's for sure. We're just waiting for the green light from the top levels to get the ball rolling in terms of construction," he said.
"I think it's mostly at a political level now, with decisions revolving around financing to be made. Saudi [Arabia] built the King Fahd causeway to Bahrain, so I think both countries are still negotiating over whether one will build it, or if it will be jointly financed."
Khalaf added that both nations stand to gain tremendously from the construction of the new causeway. "The affects of the causeway will be massive for both countries," he said. "Politically and economically, it would benefit both sides as it would make Bahrain more accessible as a trade partner as well as physically unite the two countries."
At the moment, any movement by road - be it for travel or trade - between the two countries, occurs via Saudi Arabia.
Both countries have much in common: politically they lead the region in the introduction of democracy. Ties of kinship also bond the two countries: almost every family in Bahrain has relations in Qatar, and vice-versa.
"Socially, it will be a big boon to society because most Bahrainis have blood relatives in Qatar and vice versa," added Khalaf.
"It will bring the people together and make social interaction so much better. This is one of the main reasons, along with political ones, why it's being called the 'Friendship Causeway'."
In September 2001, Denmark-based Cowi signed an $11.3 million contract with Qatar's Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Agriculture for the project's preliminary engineering and environmental investigations.
"The bridge will bring with it a new dawn of bilateral relations between the two counties," said Indian Ambassador to Bahrain, Balakrishna Shetty.
"It will not only link the two countries, but will provide convenient road access to the rest of the GCC as well. It will also link Bahrain to the UAE."
Shetty added that the new bridge will not only benefit both countries by allowing cars and road freight to travel freely between them, but its construction would be symbolic of the new spirit of partnership.