Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt Break Relations with Qatar in All-Out Rift

Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Emir of the State of Qatar, is seen here arriving to address the General Debate of the 71st Session of the United Nations (un) General Assembly at the UN Headquarters in New York City, 20 September 2016. Photo: Justin Lane/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

  • Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt have broken their diplomatic relations with Qatar.
  • They have accused their former Gulf Arab ally of supporting terrorist groups such ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran-baked Houthi rebels in Yemen, and Shiite militants in Bahrain and a Saudi province.
  • Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-backed Houthi in Yemen has expelled Qatar but the country remains part of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
  • Qatar has reacted by calling the actions of its former allies “unjustified”, and refuting their rationale.
  • Diplomatic rift has come after a recent dispute in which controversial remarks by Qatar’s leader estranged the other Gulf Arab states. Qatar has maintained, however, that the remarks were fake, and resulting from a hacking attack.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt as well as the internationally recognized government of war-torn Yemen have severed diplomatic relations with Qatar in a major international rift.

The countries in question claimed that Qatar supports terrorist groups such as ISIS (“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”), al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen, and that Qatar threatens their national security.

In the past, Qatar has denied similar allegations. It has been part of the US-led international coalition against ISIS as well as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia supporting Yemen’s internationally recognized government and fighting the Houthi rebels backed by Iran.

All Arab Persian Gulf countries in question are US allies, and Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the Middle East: 11,000 US troops are stationed in the base located 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital Doha.

The rift among the Gulf Arab states comes amid intensified rivalry with Iran for primacy in the Middle East. Qatar is due to host the football World Cup in 2022

 ‘Shaking Security and Stability’

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen cut diplomatic relations with Qatar on Monday accusing it of destabilizing the region and threatening their security, Qatari TV station Al Jazeera reported.

Bahrain was the first to announce it was cutting ties and terminating air and sea traffic with Qatar. It was followed by Saudi Arabia shortly after that.

Bahrain’s state news agency said it was cutting its ties because Qatar was “shaking the security and stability of Bahrain and meddling in its affairs.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital, Doha, within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.

Saudi Arabia made its similar announcement through its state-run Saudi Press Agency early on Monday

The Saudi Press Agency cited officials as saying the decision was taken to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.

Saudi Arabia also closed the border and halted air and sea traffic with Qatar, urging “all brotherly countries and companies to do the same”.

In addition to alleged support for ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, a Sunni majority country, also accused Qatar of backing Shiite militants in Bahrain and in the eastern Saudi province of Qatif.

The UAE accused Qatar of “supporting, funding and embracing terrorism, extremism and sectarian organisations,” state news agency WAM reported, as cited by BBC News. The UAE gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

The UAE state airline Etihad Airways said it would suspend all flights to and from Qatari capital Doha from 02:45 local time on Tuesday

The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Yemen’s Houthi rebels expelled Qatar from its alliance because of Doha’s “practices that strengthen terrorism” and its support to groups “including al-Qaeda and Daesh [IS], as well as dealing with the rebel militias”, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries, Reuters reported.

Egypt also announced the closure of its airspace and seaports for all Qatari transportation “to protect its national security”, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Emir of Qatar and PSG owner Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (C) is seen attending the French Ligue 1 soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and EA Guingamp at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, 09 April 2017. Photo: Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Qatar and US Reactions

Qatar reacted by denying the accusations of its fellow Arab countries from the Persian Gulf region, and calling their decision to break ties “unjustified”.

“The measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact,” Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement as cited by Al Jazeera.

It added that the decisions concerning the diplomatic rift would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents”.

Speaking in Sydney, Australia, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the America’s Arab allies from the Persian Gulf to to resolve their differences through dialogue.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Tillerson said.

“If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) remain united“ the US Secretary of State elaborated.

“I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally,” he added.

“All of those parties you mentioned have been quite unified in the fight against terrorism and the fight against Daesh / ISIS, and have expressed that most recently in the summit in Riyadh,” Tillerson concluded.

Alleged Hacking and Other Issues

According to Al Jazeera, the dispute between Qatar and the other Gulf Arab countries escalated after what it said to have been a recent hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency

Following the hacking, comments falsely attributed to Qatar’s leader, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, were broadcast in Qatar.

In them, he expressed support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Israel, and suggested that US President Donald Trump may not last in power.

UAE-based Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya kept running the story, despite the Qatari denials, Al Jazeera points.

Qatar’s government categorically denied that the comments attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani were ever made.

“There are international laws governing such crimes, especially the cyberattack. [The hackers] will be prosecuted according to the law,” Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, said.

In the wake of the hacking dispute, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt blocked Qatari news sites, including Al Jazeera.

Qatar has been part of the US coalition against ISIS but the Qatari government has been forced to deny accusations from Iraq’s Shiite leaders that it provided financial support to ISIS.

Yet, wealthy Qatari nationals are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hardline Islamist groups in Syria, the BBC points out.

Qatar is also accused of having links to a group formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.

Qatar has repeatedly denied accusations of ties to Iran in the past.

During his visit in the Saudi capital Riyadh two weeks ago, US President Donald Trump urged Muslim countries to combat terrorism and radicalization, and blamed instability in the Middle East on Iran.

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