Qatar out in the cold as Arabs cut ties

Gulf neigh­bours cite ter­ror sup­port

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - MEL FRYKBERG ANA

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”.

PIC­TURE: AP

Qatar Emir Sheik Tamim bin Ha­mad Al Thani.

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