Updated on Nov. 11 to include information on the UAE withdrawing from the handball tournament.
A meeting of foreign ministers from across the Gulf Cooperation Council that was supposed to be held in Doha today has apparently been pushed back due to ongoing differences between some of the participating nations.
The government leaders were expected to convene to prepare for a December GCC summit that is also slated to be held in Qatar’s capital.
According to Gulf News, this week’s meeting is likely to be delayed by several days amid lingering tensions between Qatar and its fellow GCC members Bahrain, the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
The news is a further sign of friction among the neighboring states and comes days after Bahrain announced it was withdrawing from the 2015 Men’s Handball World Championship, which Qatar will host in January.
Yesterday, the UAE also said it was pulling out of the tournament.
In a statement, the International Handball Federation said:
“The issue will be dealt with by the Council of the International Handball Federation in its next meeting scheduled for 21 November 2014, when a corresponding decision regarding this matter will be made and announced.”
While no reason was given for the two countries withdrawing from the tournament, many speculated it was a boycott related to the ongoing diplomatic disputes. On Twitter, many Gulf residents debated whether political disagreements should spill over into sports:
@abdulladarwish1 Qatar needs to stop feeding and sponsoring global instability for its agenda, attendance to these events suggests it’s ok
— Faisal Humood (@faisal_humood) November 10, 2014
The strained relations between Qatar and some of its fellow GCC members was publicly exposed in March, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.
The countries accused Qatar of violating a security pact that prohibited GCC members from interfering in the internal affairs of other members.
It was widely interpreted to be referring to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which the UAE and Saudi Arabia perceive to be a threat to their authority. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have both banned the Brotherhood and designated it a terrorist organization.
In recent months, Qatar appears to have taken steps to appease its neighbors, namely by expelling seven Brotherhood members from the country. However, this week’s events suggest that tensions remain unresolved, analysts have said.
“The GCC is deeply split on a quite fundamental level,” David Roberts, a lecturer at King’s College London, told Doha News. He added:
“Qatar and the UAE are on the polar opposite ends of this divide. The UAE is seeking to create a new ‘norm’ in the region whereby support of Islamist groups is entirely and completely anathema, verboten, banned, frowned-upon and not done. Abu Dhabi sees these groups as inherently unstable and untrustable. Qatar, in contrast, sees these groups as an indelible part of the region that can’t be simply ignored; better to have them on the inside of the tent.”
Qatar’s ambassador to the US, Mohammed Jaham Al Kuwari, went further with this argument over the weekend by linking support for the Muslim Brotherhood with overall security in the region.
Al Kuwari was quoted by Qatar’s state news agency as saying that isolating the Brotherhood and imprisoning its members would create a political vacuum that would enable the rise of groups such as ISIL.
Observers have predicted that the threat posed by the armed organization, which now controls parts of Iraq and Syria, would force the GCC to put its internal differences aside to confront the external threat.
However, Michael Stephens – the deputy-director of the Royal United Services Institute Qatar – told Doha News that the diplomatic dispute continues to drag on.
“The GCC’s penchant for internal disagreements is one of its biggest weaknesses. The truth is that it’s all beginning to look a little immature.”