Rift in the Gulf widens as US sends mixed signals
DOHA: It has been a week since several Arab countries – led by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt – severed ties and imposed an economic blockade on Qatar after they accused it of supporting terrorism.
The mood in this waterside Persian Gulf capital is a mix of fear, uncertainty and resilience as residents struggle to cope with a political and diplomatic crisis few imagined would so dramatically upend their world.
On Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the Saudi-led bloc to immediately ease the blockade, saying it has led to “unintended consequences” including food shortages, separated families and children being “pulled out of school”.
He added that the blockade was also harming American and international businesses, while “hindering US military actions in the region and the campaign against the Islamic State”.
Less than an hour later, US President Donald Trump appeared to undermine Tillerson’s plea by telling reporters in Washington that Qatar has historically been a “funder of terrorism at a very high level”.
Members of the Saudi-led bloc welcomed Trump’s demand that Qatar end its “funding and its extremist ideology” but they have kept silent on Tillerson’s call to ease the economic pressure on the Gulf state. The UAE government praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism”.
Saudi Arabia’s official news agency reported on Tillerson’s briefing on Saturday, but made no mention of his description of the blockade as being harmful to ordinary residents in Qatar.
The Saudi-led bloc has severed links to Qatar by land, sea and air. Member states have also given Qatari nationals living abroad two weeks to leave their countries, as well as for any of their own citizens to return from Qatar.
Amnesty International said on Friday that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE “are toying with the lives of thousands of Gulf residents as part of their dispute with Qatar”.
James Lynch, deputy director of Amnesty’s global issues programme, said: “People from across the region – not only from Qatar, but also from the states implementing these measures – risk losing jobs and having their education disrupted.
“We are worried about losing access to our relatives in other Gulf Co-operation Council countries,” said Walaa El-Kadi, a Lebanese woman who has lived much of her life in Qatar. Washington Post
Al-Jazeera staff work at the TV station in Doha, Qatar. The Arab news network has been thrust into the centre of the story this week as Qatar came under virtual siege by its Gulf neighbours, pressuring it to shut down the TV channel that has infuriated them with its coverage for 20 years.