Qatar expresses surprise, regret after seven nations cut diplomatic ties

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GCC

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen have broken off diplomatic ties with Qatar and closed land, sea and air access to the nation, according to official reports.

The Maldives and Libya have also entered the fray.

Saying that Qatar is undermining the stability of the region by supporting terrorism, authorities have also given Qataris living in and visiting their countries two weeks to leave.

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Additionally, the three Gulf states have forbidden their citizens from entering Qatar.

And as in 2014 during the last GCC row, Oman and Kuwait have stayed out of the conflict.

Yemen’s official news agency Saba accused Qatar of of working with its enemies in the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, Reuters reported.

“Qatar’s practices of dealing with the (Houthi) coup militias and supporting extremist groups became clear,” the Yemen government said.

‘Regret’

Qatar responded, voicing its “regret and utter surprise” at the move by UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to close borders and criticized what it said are “unjustified measures based on unfounded allegations” against the state.

In an official statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Mofa) hit out at what it called a media “smear campaign involving fabrications and provocations against it (Qatar) which shows premeditated intentions to cause harm to the country.”

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Flags flying high

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Gulf Cooperation Council flags for illustrative purposes only.

Including Egypt in the situation, it went on:

“Manufacturing pretexts to take action against Qatar is clear evidence that there are no legitimate reasons for such actions that were carried out in coordination with Egypt.

The goal is evidently to control Qatar which is in itself a violation of its sovereignty, and this is categorically unacceptable.”

Mofa sought to reassure residents in Qatar, saying that the recent measures would not affect the normal course of life for citizens and residents of the state.

‘Security and stability’

Qataris will also not be allowed to transit through the four nations, according to a statement from Bahrain News Agency about the unprecedented move.

It added:

“While the Kingdom of Bahrain regrets this decision taken to protect its security and maintain its stability, it affirms its keenness on the brotherly people of Qatar who are aware of its suffering as they witness with each act of terror the fall of casualties among their brothers and sisters in Bahrain because their government continues to support terrorism at all levels and to bring down the legitimate regime in Bahrain.”

The statement, issued just before 6am today, gives 24 hours to enforce the closure of its borders to Qatar. Qatari diplomats have also been given 48 hours to leave Manama.

“The Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain is banning its citizens from traveling to Qatar or staying there. It regrets that Qatari citizens are not allowed to enter or transit through Bahrain,” it added.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has removed Qatar from the Yemeni coalition.

It also closed all of its borders “and urged all brotherly countries and companies to do the same,” the Saudi Press Agency said.

Its Al Ahli FC has taken that advice to heart, announcing on Twitter that it would be breaking its sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways:

However, Qataris will still be allowed to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.

Simmering tensions

The decision to cut off ties to Qatar comes weeks after QNA was hacked. At the time, insulting remarks attributed to the Emir about the country’s Gulf neighbors were published.

Officials debunked these as false, but many GCC countries doubt this to be true.

QNA

Qatar’s Emir at Wednesday’s military graduation ceremony

Things escalated as media in the Gulf states began publishing criticisms of Qatar and its politics.

And just this week, hackers highlighted a UAE ambassador’s role in “pushing for the US to close down its military base in Qatar and otherwise poking at issues that could drive a wedge between the US and that Arab nation,” the Huffington Post reports.

Ramifications

As Qatar is a peninsula, it shares its only land border with Saudi Arabia, and this closure could have drastic consequences on Doha and its people.

For one, many supplies would be cut off to Qatar, which heavily depends on imports to feed its population.

Reem Saad / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

And economically speaking, the move would be devastating to Qatar’s goal of boosting tourism.

The lack of airspace access also calls into question how Qatar Airways and other carriers flying out of Doha would continue to operate.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has already announced suspension of flights to Doha from Tuesday morning until “further notice,” Arabian Business reports.

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Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“All customers who are booked on Etihad Airways flights to and from Doha are being provided with alternative options, including full refunds on unused tickets and free rebooking to the nearest alternate Etihad Airways destinations,” a spokesperson said.

With regards to Qatar Airways, one reporter theorized that not flying over certain countries’ airspace leaves only a few alternate routes:

Meanwhile, within Qatar itself, many of the country’s 200,000+ Egyptian residents are wondering how this diplomatic fight will affect them.

End game

In terms of what the Gulf states hope to accomplish by severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, some are wondering whether a regime change is in the cards.

Speaking to Doha News, GCC expert Dr. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen said the pressure is increasing on Emir Sheikh Tamim and a coup attempt could be afoot.

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US President Donald Trump

It also appears that plans have been in the works for some time to go after Qatar, and that the new US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region kicked things off.

Ulrichsen, who is a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said:

“It seems that the Saudis and Emiratis feel emboldened by the alignment of their regional interests – toward Iran and Islamism – with the Trump administration, and have decided to deal with Qatar’s alternative approach on the assumption that they will have the administration’s back.

The media campaign that has taken place both in Gulf capitals and in DC over the past two weeks has aimed to shape the background conversation on Qatar as a destabilizing regional actor, in order to pave the way for the kind of coordinated action and political/economic sanction that we’re now seeing.”

However, early on Monday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson encouraged the GCC nations to work through their problems:

Thoughts?

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