Qatar and Saudi Arabia
On Monday, June 5th, 2017, Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf state countries broke ties with Qatar. In fact, “The effort to isolate Qatar began Monday when Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia in severing all diplomatic and transport links with their neighbour. Qatari nationals were given two weeks to depart from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE” (Mackinnon, 2017).
In this article, we shall examine the international relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, how differences of foreign policies have affected their ties, and the fallout regarding other states’ position regarding Qatar.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar
Qatar and Saudi Arabia have both been a part of the Arab League, and also the Gulf Cooperative Council. However, in recent years, the tensions between the foreign policies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia have become quite clear.
As mentioned, in mid-June of 2017, Saudi Arabia and their allies announced cutting relations with Qatar. This meant ending diplomatic relations. In addition, this also included restricting Doha Airlines from flying into countries that have cut ties with Qatar (Mackinnon, 2017).
The reasons? Saudi Arabia argued that Qatar has been a state sponsor of terrorism, and thus, the country had to act to ensure that they would be punished for their actions. One of the biggest concerns for countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, and even more so, Egypt, have been the open relationship that Qatar has had with the Muslim Brotherhood, and also Hamas. As Mackinnon (2017) notes, “Qatar’s royal family has long been close to the multinational Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization considered a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel, among others. (Until this week, Qatar was home to several senior members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is effectively the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas members reportedly left Qatar shortly after the Saudi-led diplomatic offensive began on Monday.)”
In fact, as Stein (2017) notes, as early as a late May, the Emir’s website had a statement speaking highly of Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. And while he claimed this was not his statement, that the account was hacked, it did little to ease Saudi concerns about Qatar’s international relations positions.
However, along with the role that Qatar has had with Islamist groups is that Saudi Arabia also despises Qatar’s supportive position of Saudi Arabia’s nemesis in the region, Iran. As we have noted in our article on Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two states have been vying for regional dominance, and have been on different political sides, not only in Syria, but also in the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
Along with the concerns over Iran, it has been argued that Saudi Arabia has also been furious at Qatar, and also Al-Jazeera (based out of Qatar) for their activities during the Arab Spring (Mackinnon, 2017).
Moreover, as Mackinnon (2017) points out, “It’s also seen as a move by Saudi Arabia to assert its leadership over the Gulf Co-operation Council – a six-country grouping that brings together the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region – as it continues its region-wide struggle against Iran, and a move to further isolate the Muslim Brotherhood movement that Qatar supported during the Arab Spring revolts of 2011.”
Qatar was one of the few states in the region that was openly supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (Mackinnon, 2017), whereas countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt under El Sisi have been critical of the political Islamist movement.
Following the ending of diplomatic ties in June, Saudi Arabia did state conditions for re-establishing the Saudi and Qatar relationship. These included what Saudi said was the need for Qatar to stop sponsoring terrorist groups, which included ending support for groups like Hamas in Palestine, and end their support of the Muslim Brotherhood (Mackinnon, 2017). They also called for Qatar to stop backing “hostile media”, which seemed to be a direct challenge to Al Jazeera (Mackinnon, 2017).
Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, was quoted as saying that ““Nobody wants to hurt Qatar. It has to choose whether it must move in one direction or another direction. We took this step with great pain so that it understands that these policies are not sustainable and must change,” he told reporters, He claimed Qatar was undermining the Palestinian Authority and Egypt in its support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. “We want to see Qatar implement the promises it made a few years back with regard to its support of extremist groups, to its hostile media and interference in affairs of other countries”” (Wintour, 2017).
Furthermore, Anwar Gargash, the foreign minister of the UAE, was also direct in his statements against Qatar, saying that they need to ensure “iron clad” commitments to alter positions towards militant organizations. The UAE also said they would consider punishing those who sympathized with Qatar with a prison term as high as 15 years, while also banning those with a Qatari passport to come into the country (Wintour, 2017).
Trump and Qatar
Many have argued that a major reason why Saudi Arabia (and their allies) acted against Qatar in this manner, at this time period, was because of the visit to the Arabian peninsula by US President Donald Trump. It was during this visit that Trump not only spoke about the need to go after radical Islamists, but he also said that a 110 billion dollar arms deal to Saudi Arabia was in place (Mackinnon, 2017). In fact, as reports note, Trump commented on the developments between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, saying ““So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Mr. Trump posted Tuesday on his Twitter account. “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!”
However, this was criticized, especially since there are over 11,000 US military personnel in Qatar, as well as the American al-Udeid aribase, which has played an important role in US activities in the region (Mackinnon, 2017). In fact, “The U.S. military appeared caught off guard by Mr. Trump’s remarks, with a Pentagon spokesman praising Qatar at a news briefing on Tuesday. “We continue to be grateful to the Qataris for their long-standing support for our presence and their enduring commitment to regional security,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, adding there was no plan to alter the U.S. military presence in the country. Asked to comment on the disconnect between his remarks and Mr. Trump’s, Capt. Davis said: “I can’t help you with that”” (Mackinnon, 2017).
Thus, this is part of the surprise with the relationship between the US and Qatar.
Mackinnon, M. (2017). Saudi ‘power play’ leaves Qatar facing two difficult options. The Globe and Mail. June 7th, 2017. Available Online: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/saudi-power-play-leaves-qatar-facing-two-difficult-options/article35228222/
Stein, J. (2017). Qatar rift shatters myth of Gulf solidarity. The Globe and Mail. June 6, 2017. Available Online: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/qatar-rift-shatters-myth-of-gulf-solidarity/article35209513/
Wintour, P. (2017). Qatar: UAE and Saudi Arabia step up pressure in diplomatic crisis. The Guardian. 7 June 2017. Available Online: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/07/qatar-fbi-says-russian-hackers-planted-fake-news-story-that-led-to-crisis-report