Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen and Libya have cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar after Riyadh cut its land, air and sea ties with Doha, citing Qatar’s alleged support of terrorism and its hand in destabilization of the region.
Saudi Arabian state news agency said that the move came in order to protect Saudi national security from the threats of terrorism and extremism. Riyadh cut its land, air and sea ties with Doha and UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Yemen and Libya quickly followed the Saudi government s move. According to foreign media reports, four countries have given Qatari residents and visitors two weeks to leave their countries.
Riyadh, through its state agency, alleged that Qatar was involved in supporting terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh, and Al Qaeda.
Egypt released a statement through its state agency and said, “Qatar s policy threatens Arab national security and sows the seeds of strife and division within Arab societies according to a deliberate plan aimed at the unity and interests of the Arab nation.”
Bahrain foreign ministry also said that it was ending diplomatic ties “in order to preserve its national security”. The statement also pointed out that Qatar was involved in supporting armed terrorist activities, and financing groups associated with Iran to spread chaos in Bahran.
Qatar s foreign ministry has said that there is “no legitimate justification” for this move by the four countries to cut diplomatic ties with it. Qatar has also said that the decision was a violation of its sovereignty and is based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.
Two weeks back, state-run Qatar News Agency was allegedly hacked, and comments falsely attributed to the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani were broadcast. According to Aljazeera, Qatar s leader, in the fake comments, expressed his support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel, while suggesting that US president Donald Trump may not last long in power.
The comments did not go down well with Saudi Arabia and its neighbors who accept Saudi hegemony in the region and oppose Iran and the groups it supports. Qatar s neighbors responded with anger and blocked Qatari-based media channels.
Qatar government denied the comments and stated that this was a result of the hacking of QNA s website due to which these comments were falsely attributed to Al-Thani.
Earlier on May 22, the Qatari emir had congratulated Iranian president Hasan Rouhani on his reelection. The move was seemingly a clear denial of Saudi authority in the region and was probably understood by the Saudis as a move by the Qataris to get close to Iran. Iran is seen by the oil rich kingdom as a dangerous threat to its hegemony in the region. Iran is also perceived by Saudis as a threat to regional stability due to its support of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Most importantly, Iran being a majority Shia country, is the greatest threat to the predominant Sunni ideology of Saudi Arabia.
Qatar is part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) which is a regional political and economic union consisting of – apart from Qatar – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.
Over the years, many rifts have emerged in the council, including border disputes and conflicting foreign policies. The most significant disagreement that occurred in the GCC was in 2014, with the council divided between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE on the one hand, and Qatar on the other. The reason was Qatar s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the other Gulf states had outlawed due to its opposition to the hereditary monarchies present in the Gulf region. Relations also soured as a result of Qatar s support of President Mohammad Morsi, a prominent brotherhood member.
In March 2014, the three countries recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, who only returned to the country after a tense period of eight months after Qatar forced Brotherhood members it had given refuge to out of the country. Qatar s support of Morsi has also been a thorn in its relation with the Egyptians.
On the other hand, Qatar, despite being a part of GCC, of which Iran is not a part of, enjoys close relations with the Islamic Republic. Both are members of various agreements such as OPEC and OIC. Moreover, unlike Saudi Arabia, Qatar abstains from openly criticising Iran s foreign policies.
Especially problematic and a source of discord between Qatar and its neighbours is the fact that Qatar has repeatedly been at the receiving end of allegations that it supports groups like Hamas and the Al-Nusra front. However, the country has strongly denied these allegations.
It is yet to be seen what repercussions this decision to cut off ties with Qatar will have. There is a possibility that this event might have consequences for the GCC, which is the most powerful alliance in the region. Qatar has strong economic and financial links with its neighbours, which will be drastically effected by this move. It is also a part of the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemen Civil War.