MS Risk Blog

Middle East Countries Cut Ties with Qatar

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On 5 June, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism in a move that is likely to open up the worst rift in years amongst some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.   Hours later, Yemen and Libya’s eastern-based government also announced that they were severing ties with Qatar.

Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf States gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting in Yemen. Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Etihad Airways, Dubai’s Emirates Airlines and budget carrier Flydubai have also announced that they would suspend all flights to and from Doha from the morning of Tuesday 6 June until further notice. Qatar Airways has stated on its official website that it has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.

Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups, some of which have been backed by regional arch-rival Iran, and broadcasting their ideology, in what appears to be a reference to Qatar’s influence state-owned satellite channel al-Jazeera. Saudi state news agency SPA reported that “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly.” Saudi Arabia further accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.   Meanwhile Iran immediately blamed US President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh. The announcement comes just ten days after President Donald Trump visited Riyadh to call on Muslim countries to stand united against Islamist extrmeists and singling out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.

This latest move is more severe than a previous eight-month rift that occurred in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. At the time, they alleged that Qatar was supporting militant groups. During that period however travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled.

A split between Doha and its closest allies can have repercussions for the wider Middle Eastern region, where Gulf States have used their financial political power to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Furthermore, the move may threaten Qatar’s international prestige, as the country hosts a large US military base and is due to hold the 2022 World Cup. In turn, Qatar has for years presented itself as a regional mediator and power broker.