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Saudi Press Agency

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani with King Salman

The rising popularity in Saudi Arabia of an unfamiliar member of Qatar’s ruling family has sparked concerns among many following the Gulf dispute.

Amid ongoing tensions, Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani held two visits with Saudi’s king this week, both of which were widely publicized in Gulf media.

The first resulted in the temporary reopening of KSA’s land border with Qatar so that pilgrims could travel to perform Hajj.

Laststubborn/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

The second involved a meeting at the King’s residence in Morocco.

In both instances, the Saudi Press Agency highlighted “the deep ties of brotherhood between the Saudi and Qatari people and between the leadership in the Kingdom and the royal family in Qatar.”

Not official

Notably however, Al Thani was not conducting these visits in any official capacity and did not attend on behalf of the Qatari government.

This has prompted some to wonder whether the recent attention and praise heaped upon him is an effort to undermine Qatar’s current leadership.

Saudi Press Agency

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani with King Salman in Morocco

Speaking to Doha News, Andrew Bowen, a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said:

“Certainly, (this) strikes me as an opportunity in their media campaign against Qatar to portray to the Qatari and international public that Abdullah represents an alternative to Emir Tamim.”

However, this move will likely not succeed, he added. In the past few months, Qatar has rallied around Sheikh Tamim with such enthusiasm that some have said every day is now National Day.

According to Bowen, Saudi’s strategy “clearly illustrates their neighbors’ lack of understanding of Qatari politics and society.”

Who is Sheikh Abdullah?

Al Thani is the son of former Qatar Emir Sheikh Ali bin Abdullah. He is also the brother of the Emir who followed him, Sheikh Ahmed bin Ali.

That leader was later deposed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad, the recently deceased grandfather of the current Emir Sheikh Tamim.

SPA

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani

Sheikh Abdullah has kept a low profile for decades, analysts say. He lives and owns property in Saudi Arabia, and is married to a Saudi woman.

But just this week, following his visits with the king, a Twitter account was started in his name.

Questions about its authenticity are rampant. Some of Sheikh Abdullah’s relatives have denied that he started the account.

Additionally, his Twitter handle was verified almost instantly – causing some to suspect Saudi government intervention. It also gained 224,000 followers in a day.

Online reaction

In Qatar, many are expressing concern about Sheikh Abdullah’s sudden rise to prominence.

Meanwhile, some of the Emir’s most ardent supporters – his siblings – have reacted by reaffirming their allegiance to Sheikh Tamim:

Thoughts?

Policia Nacional/Twitter

Solidarity with Barcelona

Officials in Qatar have strongly denounced a deadly attack in Spain yesterday that killed 13 people and injured more than 100 others.

The incident took place in Barcelona, when a van drove into a crowd full of pedestrians.

Barcelona is the latest city in Europe to experience a vehicle attack on pedestrians.

GrahamV/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

According to CNN, more than 100 people have died in similar attacks in Berlin, London and Nice.

Spain’s Prime Minister called the attack an act of “jihadi terrorism” and police said five suspects have been killed in an ensuing raid.

Qatar condemnation

Responding to the crime, Qatar’s foreign ministry said the country rejects “violence and terrorism regardless of motives or reasons.”

In a statement, it added that it supports Spain in whatever actions it takes to maintain stability and security, and expressed sympathy to those affected by the tragedy.

The head of Qatar’s Government Communications Office also spoke out, saying the attack “goes against all human values.”

Qatari citizens were also instructed by their embassy in Spain to exercise caution and avoid crowded places.

Any nationals in need of help can call the following numbers:

Thoughts?

Al Jazeera English

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

In a possible sign of thawing relations, Saudi Arabia is reopening its land border with Qatar so that pilgrims can cross over to perform Hajj.

The decision comes by order of King Salman, after his son Crown Prince Mohammed met with an envoy from Doha yesterday, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The meeting, in which officials expressed “brotherly feelings,” marked one of the first times Saudi and Qatari authorities have spoken since the dispute began in June.

arwcheek / Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

That’s when Saudi, Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut economic and political ties with Qatar and closed their borders to its nationals, citing political reasons.

Free flights

According to SPA, the King has also instructed Qatari pilgrims be flown to Jeddah via private jets at his expense.

The Hajj announcement comes as the Gulf dispute enters its third month, and after Saudi Arabia drew international criticism for politicizing the pilgrimage.

Omar Chatriwala / Doha News

Pilgrims at Mt. Arafah during Hajj

Officials had previously said Qatar residents were welcome to perform the Hajj, but they couldn’t use Qatar Airways to fly into Saudi Arabia.

This year, Hajj starts at the end of August.

A Muslim who is physically and financially able is required to perform the pilgrimage at least once in their lives.

Thoughts?