In an unprecedented and major diplomatic rift, six Arab countries (and seven countries overall) have broken ties with Qatar, accusing it of sponsoring terror groups and trying to destablise the Middle-east. Qatar has hit back at the allegations, calling them “unjustified” and having “no basis in fact”.
The development happened in Monday, 5 June, when Bahrain announced diplomatic withdrawal from Qatar. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Maldives swiftly followed suit.
Saudi state news agency SPA stated that the move was to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism”.
The six Arab countries have accused Qatar of channeling funds to the Islamic State (IS) and Al Qaeda, something Qatar repeatedly denied. The Qatari foreign minister said, “The measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact … not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents.”
Qatar has a history of sympathy towards extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and its state-owned media outlet, Al Jazeera, has been accused of furthering Islamist ideologies. Additionally, Qatar has always been seen with suspicion with its Sunni peers in the Middle-east because of its close ties with Iran.
While hostility between the Gulf countries is not a new concept, this sudden outburst of diplomatic breakdown was largely unforeseen. However, it must be noted that this happened only two weeks after US President Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and two weeks after several Gulf nations blocked Qatari news sites.
Saudi Arabia has removed Qatar from the coalition fighting rebels in Yemen due to “practices that strengthen terrorism” and its support of extremist groups. The countries said that they have closed their airspace to Qatar Airways. The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have given Qatari visitors two weeks’ time to leave their countries.
Meanwhile, the Qatari stock market has plunged. The situation is highly nuclear and unpredictable, with the Qatari government becoming increasingly isolated and the already low oil prices expected to be negatively affected further. There are also humanitarian concerns, especially with food supply as Qatar received 40% of its food supplies by truck from Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is currently in Australia, called for the parties involved to solve their disputes through constructive dialogue. Turkey reportedly conveyed that it was ready to mediate between Qatar and the Gulf states.
However, with borders closed and ties existent only with Oman and Kuwait in the region, Qatar struggles to make sense of recent events even as it economy is in freefall.