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Qatar: How did it come to this?


Qatar

Qatar: How did it come to this?

Four neighbours of Qatar have severed their ties with the oil-rich Gulf state, but why have they take the seemingly extreme step?

Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain accuse Qatar of destabilising the region, by interfering in Bahraini politics, and supporting terrorism.

Qatar is seen as a threat because of their support for Hamas- the Palestinian group considered a terrorist organisation by governments including the US- who are in turn linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2013 a significant rift opened between Qatar and Egypt on these political lines, after the Muslim Brotherhood’s elected president Mohammed Morsi was ousted by the army and current president el-Sisi. Egypt has also banned Doha-based news outlet Al Jazeera for “inciting terrorism” and “fabricating news”. In 2013 three Al Jazeera journalists were imprisoned by Egypt for reports which were “damaging to national security”. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have now all been released.

Monday’s actions are not the first time that Qatar’s neighbours have reacted to political disagreements with diplomatic actions. In 2014 the same states withdrew their diplomats from Doha. That rift was solved within nine months, but the underlying issues were not addressed.

Recent triggers

In late May, reports emerged of a speech given by Qatari Emir al-Thani in which he supposedly criticised the US, offered support to Shia state Iran, reaffirmed support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and said Qatari-Israeli relations are “good”.

The nation’s official news agency then reported a ‘conspiracy’ against Qatar had led to the government withdrawing ambassadors from the countries now taking similar action against Qatar.

However, the government frantically denied the veracity of these reports. They said the comments appeared after hackers accessed the state news agency website.
But in the eyes of those already wary of Qatar’s ambitions, al-Thani’s apparent words were simply a confirmation of what was already believed to be Qatar’s true positions.
These reports did damage, but in reality only added to existing tensions.

Two days before the reports, leaks have revealed that the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otailba emailed US Defence Secretary Robert Gates before he was due to speak at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s conference on Qatar. He is reported to have told Gates to “give them hell”.

Gates delivered a scathing speech, criticising Qatar for “support for ‘Islamists’”, and asking “Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship”.

What does Qatar say?

Doha says that its support of Islamist groups is not a straightforward policy decision based on the Emir’s preference, but rather a tactical choice because of the strong public support groups like the Muslim Brotherhood enjoy.

On Monday Qatar said there is “no legitimate justification” for the action, adding that the move is a “violation of (Qatar’s) sovereignty as a state”.

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