Crisis in the Gulf as allies isolate Qatar

Several Arab and Middle Eastern states have severed ties with Qatar, sparking a major crisis. On Monday, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors and launched an economic blockade which caused food shortage scares in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The move is a reaction to two issues. The first is alleged Qatari funding of terrorism. Qatar has a history of funding regional Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a designated terrorist group in many Middle Eastern states especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The claim that Qatar supports terrorist groups is largely true: it has been a main backer of hard-line Islamist groups in Syria, and the Afghan Taliban have an office in Doha. Yet Saudi Arabia too is heavily involved in funding Syrian rebels which points to another cause.

The second, and more imporwtant, is Qatari relations with Iran. Recent alleged comments by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, emir of Qatar, expressing sympathy for Iran have angered members of an anti-Iranian Sunni power bloc in the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States.

Qatar has found itself unable to pursue an independently minded foreign policy, with pressure from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman to fall in line.

The Qatari News Agency claimed that it was hacked and the comments did not come from the Emir, which an FBI investigation has corroborated.

There are signs, however that this is part of something larger, with a sophisticated anti-Qatar social media campaign on Twitter in the days leading up to the crisis.

The US waded into the dispute, with Donald Trump tweeting that it was his Riyadh visit “paying off” with “all reference [with regards to terror funding] pointing to Qatar.” He suggested that, “perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism.”

His comments caused consternation in the Pentagon and amongst US defence officials, with Qatar hosting 25 percent of all US soldiers in the Middle East and being a major military ally and supporter. In Qatar the effects have been felt already.

Panic-buying left supermarkets with major shortages, flights are being diverted to avoid newly prohibited airspace, and there is concern over food security, with the country being heavily reliant on imports.


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August 2021
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