The Arab Gulf states and Egypt have cut off relations with Qatar. This news comes after the ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, called newly elected Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to congratulate him on his election win. Comments attributed to the emir later emerged on Qatar’s state run news agency, expressing support for the Iranian regime, Hezbollah and Hamas. Qatar claims the comments are false and the result of a cyber-attack. Despite denials, state run news agencies in other Gulf states continue to run the story. No definitive evidence to support Qatar’s claim of being hacked has emerged.
Saudi Arabia has removed all Qatari troops from the war in Yemen. This move has been deemed to be in the best interest of national security. Saudi state run media also claims that Qatar is supporting ISIS and Al Qaeda. Qatar has openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past.
Qatar is a one of the world richest countries, but relies on Saudi Arabia for 40 percent of its food imports. Freighters containing food stop in the UAE before entering Qatar – and at this point it is uncertain whether the ships will be able to reach the country. People in Doha have been told to stockpile food for the time being.
This is a worrying turn of events which adds a new dimension to an already turbulent Middle Eastern situation. If the claims against Qatar are true – that they are in line with Shia terrorist groups and the state of Iran – then this would be an extremely unexpected shift in political alignment for the region. Saudi Arabia calls Iran the number one funder of terrorism in the world, a claim which is supported by the current U.S administration. They are now alienating and pointing to Qatar as a supporter of terror as well.
This moves come in lieu of Trump’s direct and brazen speech in Riyadh where he exuberantly called for the Islamic world’s cooperation in the eradication of global terrorism. The historic address offered a bridge of unity between the Western and Islamic worlds – focusing on the importance of battling extremism in order to ensure peace and the realization of regional economic potential.
Saudi Arabia also castigated Qatar’s alleged support for Sunni terror groups. Condemning a fellow Sunni Arab Gulf state for such an act is a new position for the Saudis to take. They have publicly called for the condemnation of ISIS before, but only in the context of justifying an excuse to prop up the opposition army in the Syrian Civil War.
Trump’s speech could have had something to do with the actions. The Gulf states may be sending a message that terror affiliation can no longer be tolerated. But this is a speculative leap at best – and instead is conceivably due to Qatari support for Shia groups and Iran. These latest actions likely do not reflect an unequivocal rejection of Islamic extremism and terrorism in all forms. The move could also be for underlying geopolitical reasons – oil, backroom deals, personal vendettas, or pressure from the U.S to undermine Iran may be the cause.
Trump himself is claiming the recent diplomatic cut off is indeed related to terror support. In two tweets, he praised Saudi Arabia and attributed their actions to mitigating terrorism. The accuracy of this is questionable, and it remains to be seen whether or not these actions will be the first of many in actually stopping support for all terrorism – not just Shia groups.
Although this recent Saudi condemnation of Sunni terror is intriguing, it is largely hypocritical. Saudi Arabia has long been identified as a funder of radical Islamic terrorism. A U.S joint intelligence report colloquially known as “The 28 Pages” established Saudi connections to the 9/11 hijackers. Recently, the British Home Office has refused to release the findings of a report which identifies funding for radical mosques in Britain. Theresa May’s government has deemed the findings sensitive, and is hesitant to release them. Many, including opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, speculate that the report contains links between radical mosques and Saudi money.
In all likelihood, the Saudis are simply angered by Qatar’s relationship with Iran, and are merely throwing in disapproval of radical Sunni support for purely optical reasons. It remains to be seen whether the cutting of diplomatic ties will lead to any further action between Qatar and the Arab coalition.
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