Emir of Qatar
Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, further deepening a rift between Gulf Arab nations over Qatar’s support for Islamist groups.
In an official report, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar due to repeated offenses of failing to help protect Saudi Arabia from extremism and terrorists.
Yemen’s internationally recognized government also cut ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of working with its enemies in the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, state news agency Saba reported.
As the standoff between the tiny country and its neighbors escalates, a close look at its contentious history.
The rupturing of diplomatic relations between Qatar and five regional states-Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the internationally recognized Yemeni government-in-exile-has brought to a head a long-simmering dispute about the country’s distinctive approach to regional affairs.
That crisis would peak in March 2014, when Saudi Arabia and the UAE judged that Qatar was not in full compliance with the agreement Tamim signed. Together with Bahrain, they withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. For the UAE, whose leadership was cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, a particular flashpoint was the discovery that several Emirati members of al-Islah, the Brotherhood’s UAE-affiliated branch, had been given refuge in Doha after fleeing the UAE in 2012.
Months of acrimony followed, with periodic attempts at negotiation mediated by Kuwait, whose emir, Sheikh Sabah, reportedly has a close relationship with Emir Tamim. But the dispute ended in November 2014 after a series of Qatari concessions. These included relocating Muslim Brotherhood figures in Doha to Turkey, ordering the Emirati dissidents to leave Qatar, closing Al Jazeera’s Egyptian branch, and enforcing the GCC Internal Security Pact and cooperating closely with GCC partners on matters of intelligence and policing.
The current crisis has, therefore, been building for years. This time, it may have been triggered by a complex prisoner swap that Qatar negotiated in April to release 26 members of a Qatari hunting party, including many members of the Qatari ruling family, who had been taken hostage in Iraq in December 2015. The group had been held by Kitaeb Hezbollah, a Shia militia with links to Iran, and Qatar reportedly negotiated with Iran, Hezbollah, and the Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra to secure their release.
Allegations that Qatar may have paid up to $500 million for the prisoner exchange caused fury in regional capitals, including Baghdad, where Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi claimed that the deal had been done without Iraqi government involvement or approval. While the exact details of the agreement remain unclear, the suggestion that such large sums of money had been paid to violent non-state actors in Iraq, with the tacit connivance of Iran, reinforced perceptions in other Gulf capitals that Qatar’s proximity to such groups posed a threat to regional stability and security.
Although the actions taken thus far fall short of outright acts of war, both Qatar and its accusers are boxed in, and may be unwilling to back down from such a high-profile game of brinkmanship. And yet, any hopes that Saudi and Emirati official might entertain of forcing the Trump administration to take sides will be complicated by the considerable range of U.S. defense, security, and energy interests in Qatar, which cannot be easily unwound or replicated elsewhere. This notwithstanding, the sudden spike in regional tension presents the administration with a problem that defies easy resolution and casts a pall over the afterglow that President Donald Trump enjoyed following his visit to the Gulf two weeks ago.