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      The Salwa Canal and the Island of Qatar

      Arab Studies Quarterly
      Pluto Journals
      isolation, Salwa Canal, Arabia Saudi, Qatar, island State, international law.


            On April 5, 2018 Saudi Arabia announced the Salwa Canal project to inaugurate a new generation of shipping canals that has nothing to do with advancing maritime navigation, but rather for changing Qatar's geography and isolating it. If executed as planned, the Salwa Canal would be built completely on Saudi territory 1 km from its border with the Qatar peninsula. The latter would see its only land border disappear and turn the State of Qatar into an island State. The following questions arise: insofar as international law is concerned, would Saudi Arabia be within its rights to execute this project? Would Qatar have a legal case in international forums to halt the project on grounds that its geography would be adversely impacted? On another level, would Qatar, as the injured State, be able to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice to discuss possible environmental damage? What impacts does this project, if executed, have on other possible cases such as Malaysia, should Thailand decide to construct a canal that would connect the province of Satun with the gulf of Thailand and Songkhla province to directly access the Strait of Malacca, or on the claimed city of Gibraltar, if Spain decides to connect the Bay of Algeciras with the Alboran Sea via a sea canal? This article attempts to shed some light on such novel matters in light of the Salwa Canal project and its legal impacts under international law.


            Author and article information

            Arab Studies Quarterly
            Pluto Journals
            1 January 2020
            : 42
            : 3 ( doiID: 10.13169/arabstudquar.42.issue-3 )
            : 168-180
            © 2020 The Center for Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies

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            Social & Behavioral Sciences
            Arabia Saudi,isolation,island State,Salwa Canal,international law.,Qatar


            1. For more information on this new issue see “Salwa Canal: Does Saudi Arabia Want to Transform Qatar into an Island (ideos)”, International Network, July 17, 2018, https://reseauinternational.net/canal-de-salwa-larabie-saoudite-veut-elle-transformer-le-qatar-en-ile-videos (accessed September 5, 2018) and Benjamin Barthe, “In Qatar, the Possibility of an Island,” by Le Monde, July 4, 2018.

            2. The electronic newspaper Sabq revealed on April 5, 2018 the project that Saudi Arabia plans to construct on its territory. https://sabq.org/tkCsYD (accessed December 3, 2018; text in Arabic).

            3. The crossing went from 22,500 km to 9,500 km.

            4. More information see The Kiel Canal and Heligoland (Handbooks prepared under the direction of the historical section of the foreign office, 41; London: HM Stationery Office, 1920).

            5. For more information see J. L. Candela Sánchez, “La contribución de los canales interoceánicos al derecho internacional económico: una aproximación a partir del comercio marítimo internacional de los países andinos por el Canal de Panamá,” Agenda Internacional 7:15 (2000), 73–106.

            6. For example: the Marne-Rhine canal, which connects the Marne to Vitry-le François to the Rhine in Strasbourg, the Lenin navigation canal Volga-Don, and the great Jingsheng China canal connecting Beijing to Hangzhou, which represents the longest and most ancient canal in the world, and has been listed on the world heritage UNESCO list since 2014.

            7. A. Siegfried, “Les canaux internationaux et les grandes routes maritimes mondiales,” Receuil des Cours de l'Académie du droit international 74 (1949-I) 5–72.

            8. Cour permanente de justice internacionale/ Permanent court of International justice, Vapeur Winbledon, arrêt du 17 août 1923, série A, n° 1, p. 22.

            9. Ibid., p. 28.

            10. A. Cavaglieri, “Regles génerales du droit de la paix,” Le Recueil des Cours de l'Académie de Droit International de La Haye, 26 (1920), 433. See also Ch. Rousseau, Droit International Public, tome IV, p. 565.

            11. February 26, 2018, it was closed due to heavy rainfall and falling rocks.

            12. U. Leanza, Le régime juridique international de la Méditerrannée (The Hague Academy of International Law; Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1992), 246.

            13. For more information about canals please visit http://aedik.gr/the-canal/specifications/?lang=en (Grèce) (accessed December 7, 2018).

            14. J. Marcadon, “Enjeux économiques et politiques des pertuis maritimes (détroits et canaux interocéaniques) (Economic and political stakes of the maritime straits (passages and canals),” Bulletin de l'association de géographes français, 76:3 (1999), Les frontières en Amérique. Enjeux géopolitiques des littoraux maritimes, 292–302.

            15. A. Luchet, La planète océane: Précis de géographie maritime (Paris: Armand Colin, 2014), 111. For more information on the canal see https://www.ecured.cu/Canal_de_Kiel_(Alemania) (accessed December 7, 2018).

            16. It should be pointed out that Adolf Hitler rejected its international status in 1936 but at the end of the Second World War, the said status was reinstated.

            17. See art. 380 of the Versailles peace convention of June 28, 1919.

            18. We can read in the award, paragraph VI, the point of law: “Although, having been built by Germany on its territory, the Kiel Canal constituted until 1919 an interior route of the State which holds the two banks, the Treaty was careful not to confuse it with the other inland waterways of the German Empire … which unequivocally raises the right to international navigation.”

            19. It was destroyed by Caliph Al-Mansour to isolate Medina and avoid the risk of a possible attack.

            20. In the maritime context, the canal corresponds to the access road to a harbour or anchorage area deep enough that the keel of a ship does not hinder the ship's movement.

            21. The convoy is classified according to the characteristics of the ship so as to know the category and nature of the load. During the transit the southbound and northbound convoys could not sail concomitantly in the canal.

            22. See R. Mrabet Temsamani, El Estrecho de Gibraltar: la protección internacional y nacional de su medio ambiente marino (Madrid: Dykinson, 2018), 152.

            23. For further details please see https://www.planetoscope.com/Mobilite/1836-nombre-de-navires-qui-empruntent-le-canal-de-suez.html (accessed December 4, 2018). To examine the statistics, see the official site of the authority of the Suez Canal: https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/English/Navigation/Pages/NavigationStatistics.aspx (accessed December 4, 2018).

            24. See https://www.cnrs.fr/inee/communication/breves/b106.html (accessed December 3, 2018).

            25. For more information, please see: http://www.leparisien.fr/environnement/nature/canal-de-suezquel-est-son-impact-ecologique-07-08-2015-4994147.php (accessed December 5, 2018).

            26. In this case, it was Britain, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France, Italy, Holland, Russia, and Turkey. Those powers met on at the conclusion of this convention and agreed on 17 articles.

            27. Consolidated Treaty Series. Vol 171 (XXXX), p. 241; Nouveau Recueil Général des Traités et autres actes relatif aux rapports de droit international, 2nd ser. 15 (XXXX), 557; Droit International des Droits de l'Homme, 1:2 (XXXX), 44.

            28. See the Nationalization Decree: https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/English/About/CanalTreatiesAndDecrees/Pages/NationalizationDecree.aspx (accessed December 6, 2018).

            29. Law no. 30 of 1975, The Organization of the Suez Canal Authority: https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/English/About/CanalTreatiesAndDecrees/Pages/ARepublicanDecreeLawNo.30of1975.aspx (accessed December 6, 2018).

            30. See. Law no. 4 of 1998 Amending Sonic Provisions of Law no. 30 of 1975:. https://www.suezcanal.gov.eg/English/About/CanalTreatiesAndDecrees/Pages/LawNo4.aspx (accessed December 6, 2018).

            31. It follows that the importance of the passage through the isthmus was explored when it was crossed from north to south in 1513 by the Spanish conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, who explored the Pacific Ocean which is separated from the Atlantic by a short distance. See P. Cerezo de Diego, “El Canal de Panamá y su régimen jurídico,” Anuario Jurídico y Económico Escurialense, 43 (2010), 41–58.

            32. Edward Arthur Whittuck, Internationals Canals (London: HM Stationery Office, 1920), 36.

            33. It should be pointed out that the Nicaragua project is not yet buried. In fact, it arose again in 2013 with the promise of its president Daniel Ortega that it should be ready by 2020. Its length will be 278 km and thus it could rival the Panama Canal. To date, the project's work, which is expected to be fully funded by a private company at a cost of more than $50 million, has not gone beyond the inauguration. For further information on the halt in operations, see: https://www.estrategiaynegocios.net/centroamericaymundo/1189097-330/las-claves-que-hicieron-sucumbiral-gran-canal-de-nicaragua (accessed December 8, 2018).

            34. R. Perruchoud, Le régime de neutralité du canal de Panama (Paris: Graduate Institute Publications, 1983).

            35. J. Perkin, Confessions of a Hit Man (Barcelona, Urano SA, 2005), 85.

            36. We can read on the convention the names of John Hay, the secretary of the state, as representative of the American president, and Philippe Bunau Varilla who represented the government of the Republic of Panama.

            37. As in the case of the creation of the Universal Company of the Suez Canal, a universal company of the interoceanic canal of Panama was created. See E. Benedetti, “El problema de la soberanía en la zona del Canal,” Anuario de Derecho (Universidad de Panamá́, 1961–2), 239–247.

            38. The Panama Canal is an interoceanic passage, connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. It is 80 km long. Its width varies between 90 and 300 m. Its crossing requires an average duration of nine hours. It was inaugurated on August 15, 1914.

            39. See. Art. I. “The Republic of Panama declares the Canal an international waterway that will be permanently neutral in accordance with the regime stipulated in this treaty. The same neutrality regime will apply to any other international waterway that is built wholly or partially in Panamanian territory.” Translated from Spanish, the original language, by the author.

            40. See. Art. VII. “The Republic of Panama and the United States of America will co-sponsor in the Organization of American States a resolution that opens the Protocol to this treaty to the accession of all the states in the world, whereby the signatories will adhere to the objectives of this treaty, agreeing to respect the neutrality regime established therein …” Translated from Spanish by the author.

            41. Read the Saudi newspaper in Arabic on https://sabq.org/QsmXbR (accessed on February 1, 2019).

            42. Saud al-Qahtani discussed the project in his account on a social network on April 9, 2018.

            43. It would be interesting to consult the map of Saudi ports on the official website of the Saudi Ports Authority: https://mawani.gov.sa/en-us/pages/default.aspx.(accessed February 5, 2019).

            44. For more information visit https://www.aa.com.tr/fr/politique/larabie-saoudite-va-creuser-un-canal-le-long-de-la-fronti%C3%A8re-du-qatar-responsable-saoudien/1113714 (accessed on February 4, 2019).

            45. It is possible to access this treaty of December 26, 1915 at http://www.mukatel.com/openshare/Behoth/Atrikia51/Saudia3/mol79.doc_cvt.htm (accessed February 9, 2019). However, the Jeddah Treaty of 1927 in which Britain fully recognized the independence of the kingdom of Hejaz, the Najd, and its annexes, annulled the 1915 treaty.

            46. Received by the Secretariat of the United Nations on March 19, 2009, registration no.: A-30249. Entered into force: December 16, 2008.

            47. These are: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and Jordan, that has only reduced its diplomatic representation to the lowest level.

            48. Qatar brought proceedings before the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization against these four States on October 30, 2017. The Council's decision of June 29, 2018 decided that it had legal jurisdiction to settle the dispute in which Qatar accuses its neighbors of violating an agreement regulating the freedom of movement of commercial aircraft in foreign airspace. In turn, the States in question filed an application to the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, to appeal the above-mentioned decision. See the press release https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/174/174-20180705-PRE-01-00-FR.pdf. According to the order of the ICJ of March 27, 2019, the deadline was fixed for the plaintiffs to submit their rejoinder to the defendant for his rejoinder on May 27, 2019 and July 29, 2019. Consult the order: https://www.icj-cij.org/files/case-related/174/174-20190327-ORD-01-00-FR.pdf. The same blockade was intended to completely isolate Qatar, which could have led to the depletion of foodstuffs exported from most of these neighboring countries. This prompted Iran, Morocco, and Turkey to break this embargo and bring food products into Qatar.

            49. According to the information provided on the project, this mainly concerns the revitalization of tourism through maritime travel among the Gulf countries.

            50. Ratified by Saudi Arabia on April 25, 1996 and by Qatar on December 2, 2002.

            51. Signed on February 25, 1991 and in force since September 10, 1997.

            52. It is about the Minister of Qatar during his interview on FoxNews: https://video.foxnews.com/v/5768572660001/#sp=show-clips.

            53. Following the self-government granted in the Constitution of May 1969, the Spanish Government, under the mandate of General Franco, decided to close the gate, the only land access to and from Spain. It was a decision that had a disastrous impact at the economic level, leaving thousands of Spanish workers without work and therefore without income. On a human level, the ordeal that relatives had to endure to go from Gibraltar to the closest point to visit relatives had been devastating. The only solution they had was to go on a ferry to Tangier and from there on to another ferry to their destination, or go to Algeciras or Tarifa. The gate was opened on October 25, 1982, the price that Spain had to pay to enter the then European Economic Community. In that case, we can talk about a reversible isolation. So, Gibraltar could recover its only land access to and from Spain.


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