President Trump’s recent speech in Riyadh, in which he blamed Iran for instability in the Middle East and urged Muslim countries to take the lead in combating radicalization, is seen as likely to have emboldened Gulf allies to act against Qatar.
Image source Wikimedia
He tweeted on June 6: “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!”
The president later added: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding… extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
Qatar is home to the biggest US military air base in the Middle East, with about 8,000 personnel based at al-Udeid.
The official statement from White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the US was in communication with all parties “to resolve issues and restore co-operation”.
In the same week as Donald Trump’s Riyadh speech, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE blocked Qatari news sites, including Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on June 6 that the economic measures should persuade Qatar to change its policies and behave “like a normal country”.
Speaking in Paris, he called on Qatar’s rulers to end their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian militant group Hamas and what he called “hostile media”.
“We believe that common sense and logic and will convince Qatar to take the right steps,” Adel al-Jubeir said.
The emir of Kuwait – one of the Gulf countries not involved in the dispute – traveled to Saudi Arabia on June 6 in an attempt to mediate. He later left after a “brotherly visit” but there was no word on the outcome of the talks.
Qatari nationals in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been given two weeks to leave.
Qatar denies backing militants and its foreign minister has called for “a dialogue of openness and honesty”.
Egypt has announced it was closing off its airspace to Qatar from 04:00 GMT on June 6 “until further notice”.
Travel disruption is expected as the airport in Doha, Qatar’s capital, is a major hub for international flight connections.
Image source Wikipedia
Airlines affected will include Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates.
When avoiding the massive neighbor to the west, Saudi Arabia, Qatari planes will inevitably have to take longer routes leading to longer flight times.
However, Qatar’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, told broadcaster Al Jazeera the country would “still have access to the world through international sea lanes and international airspace”.
An anonymous Somali official told AP at least 15 Qatar Airways flights had used Somalia’s airspace on June 5, many more than on a normal day.
The states joining the move against Qatar, a tiny but gas-rich peninsula, on June 5 include some of the biggest powers in the Arab world.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE closed all transport ties by air, land and sea to Qatar.
They gave all Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their territory, and banned their citizens from travelling to Qatar.
The UAE and Egypt expelled Qatari diplomats, giving them 48 hours to leave.
Saudi Arabia closed down a local office of Al Jazeera, but said Qatari citizens would still be allowed to take part in the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca.
Egypt, Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives later followed suit in severing diplomatic ties.
Five countries – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen – have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of destabilizing the region.
They say Qatar backs militant groups including ISIS and al-Qaeda, which Qatar has denied.
The Saudi state news agency SPA said Riyadh had closed its borders, severing land, sea and air contact with the tiny peninsula of Qatar.
Qatar called the decision “unjustified” and with “no basis in fact”.
Image source Flickr
The unprecedented move is being seen as a significant split between powerful Gulf countries, who are also close US allies.
It comes in the context of increased tensions between Gulf countries and their near-neighbor Iran. The Saudi statement accused Qatar of collaborating with Iranian-backed militias.
The diplomatic withdrawal was put into motion by Bahrain then Saudi Arabia on June 5. Their allies swiftly followed.
SPA cited officials as saying the decision was taken to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.
The three Gulf countries have given Qatari nationals two weeks to leave their territory.
More broadly, there are two key factors driving June 5 decision: Qatar’s ties to Islamist groups, and the role of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
While Qatar has joined the US coalition against ISIS, the Qatari government has been forced to repeatedly deny accusations from Iraq’s Shia leaders that it provided financial support to ISIS.
However, wealthy individuals in the emirate are believed to have made donations and the government has given money and weapons to hard-line Islamist groups in Syria. Qatar is also accused of having links to a group formerly known as the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate.
The SPA statement accused Qatar of backing these groups, as well as the widely-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and that it “promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly”.
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