Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have not only broken relations with Qatar but have also Qatari nationals a two-week deadline to leave their respective territories. The country’s neighbours have attempted to isolate Qatar by imposing a travel ban as well as a ban on the country using their sea ways and airspace.
Donald Trump’s visit, a multimillion dollar arms deal and his call in Riyadh last month Gulf nations to do more in the fight against terrorism as emboldened Saudi Arabia and its allied to act more firmly against those they perceive as threatening their interests.
Is Qatar really the destabilising force in the region as is claimed? Or is this spat a result of the country’s deviation from the Saudi-bloc regional foreign policy initiatives?
The post-Arab uprisings order
Since the eruption of the popular uprisings in various Middle East nations in 2011 – commonly referred to as the Arab Spring – Qatar has chosen different sides to that of its neighbours. Egypt and Libya are the clearest examples, where Doha chose to support pro-Muslim brotherhood camps whilst the UAE and Saudi Arabia preferred to side with military establishments.
This difference was further highlighted with the publication of leaked emails of the UAE’s ambassador to Washington, which showed that there was direct support to the military coup in Egypt.
The leak also revealed the UAE’s close relationship with a pro-Israeli think-tank as well as efforts to tarnish Qatar’s image and a role in Turkey’s failed coup last year.
When it comes to assessing allegations that Qatar has a pro-Iranian policy Qatar, it emerges that Qatar has been funding rebel groups in Syria similar to those which its Gulf rivals fund. These groups such as Ahrar al Sham target Daesh and Bashar al Assad’s forces.
In the Syrian theatre Qatar is in fact targeting Iranian interests rather than supporting them. In Yemen, Qatar was accused of funding Houthi rebels despite having soldiers who were participating in the Saudi-led coalition against the rebels. Qatar even extradited a political dissident to Saudi Arabia on the same day it was accused of being pro-Iranian.
Doha does not support hostility against Iran as it depends on its Persian neighbour to allow its oil and gas to leave the Persian Gulf without disruption. No evidence that Qatar is supporting, arming or funding Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah or the Houthi rebels has ever been presented.
Such is the escalation in the war of words that the president of a US-based Saudi lobbyist group in Washington even went so far as to warn the Emir of Qatar that he could share the same fate as Egypt’s popularly elected President Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled and imprisoned in 2013.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has just fueled the fire as his social media posts further vilified Doha.
During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar - look!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2017
So how far will this row go and will Qatar be able to withstand the immense pressure coming its way?