Qatar out in the cold as Arabs cut ties
Gulf neighbours cite terror support
THE GULF state of Qatar is finding itself increasingly isolated after four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties with Doha yesterday over its alleged ties with Islamist groups.
The diplomatic move follows leaked e-mails from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador to the US Yousef Al Otaiba and a pro-Israel neo-conservative think tank collaborating on ways to downgrade Qatar’s regional and global importance, including through media coverage with co-operative journalists.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar, a gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 Fifa World Cup.
Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen. In addition to cutting diplomatic ties, the four countries said they intended to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country. This move could significantly affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.
Furthermore, the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar is where the US military’s Central Command, and some 10 000 American troops, are based, so the move could affect US military operations.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry called the measures “unjustified” and said the decision to sever ties was a violation of the country’s sovereignty and “based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact”.
Bahrain has accused Doha of “media incitement” and supporting armed groups, which they allege are linked to and funded by Iran, in carrying out sabotage and “spreading chaos” in Bahrain.
The other countries issued similar statements.
The breakdown in relations between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours follows earlier allegations by Qatar that hackers had taken over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, about Iran and Israel. In response, the countries blocked Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al Jazeera.
Qatar has long been criticised for supporting groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the countries’ hereditary rule.
The fallout goes back to when Qatar backed former Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader and Egypt’s first democratically elected president, who was ousted in a military coup in 2013 and replaced with President Abdel-Fatteh El Sisi. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift. However, eight months later the ambassadors were returned after Qatar expelled some Brotherhood members and silenced others.
Qatar has strongly denied it funds extremist groups, although it is one of the key financial patrons of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Doha is also accused of funding and encouraging Sunni extremists, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front in Syria.
Yesterday’s dramatic developments follow in the wake of US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia during which he offered political and economic support to Riyadh in its opposition to Iran.
In a related development, a strong relationship between UAE Ambassador Al Otabia and pro-Israel neo-conservative think tank, the Foundation for Defence of Democracies (FDD), has been established. Hacked correspondence from Al Otabia’s e-mail address reveals a high level of backchannel cooperation between the FDD, which is funded by pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, a close associate of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the UAE.
The leaked e-mails also appear to show clear collaboration between the FDD and the UAE on a campaign to downgrade the image and importance of Qatar as a regional and global power, including collusion with journalists who have published articles accusing Qatar and Kuwait of supporting “terrorism”.
Qatar Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.