Gulf trio pull Qatar ambassadors - why now?

The GCC states see Doha returning to its old tricks of pursuing policies unilaterally and outside of a GCC framework

Dr. Theodore Karasik
Dr. Theodore Karasik
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Today, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The statement from SPA stated that Qatar had not lived up to its agreements with the rest of the GCC states (from November 2013) regarding “among them and committing to principles of non-interference in the internal affairs of other GCC countries and not supporting anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries including organizations and individuals and not supporting the antagonistic media.” There are several significant reasons for this abrupt and sudden action.

First, Doha continues to support the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan). Ever since the ascension of Emir Tamim, and much to the chagrin of the rest of the GCC, the Qatari government is continuing to support all vestiges of the Ikhwan. Ikhwan institutions continue to function in Doha including associations and commercial entities.

Fuelling the fire, Qatar also refuses to quiet the Egyptian cleric Yousuf Qaradawi who continues to attack Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Sermon after sermon is dedicated to Riyadh’s policies on Egypt as well as the UAE, which he accused of being “against Islamic rule.” These comments drew the ire of senior Emirati officials who lashed back at Qatar for not honing in Qaradawi.

The Qatari Ambassador to the UAE had already been summoned at least once about Qaradawi especially with the sermons broadcasted on state television for all to see and hear that attacked the reconciliation deal and pledges made by the Emir last November. The heightening of tensions led Abu Dhabi leaders to tell Emir Tamim in a phone call to apologize for Qaradawi’s statements and to silence him immediately or else there will be consequences. Clearly, the lower GCC states are sending a very strong signal to Qatar in order to penalize Doha for inaction.

The GCC states see Doha returning to its old tricks of pursuing policies unilaterally and outside of a GCC framework

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Second, in terms of non-interference, is related in part to Qatar’s relations with Turkey. The GCC states see Doha returning to its old tricks of pursuing policies unilaterally and outside of a GCC framework. Qatar’s overtures to Turkey are causing major friction. First, Turkey, of course, is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood but wants military action to take out the Syrian government and specifically remove President Assad from power. Doha wants to link up with Turkey regarding the support for the Ikhwan which automatically puts Qatar in opposition to many other states in the region including Saudi Arabia, and, of course, Egypt. But there is another more serious matter. Arab officials are claiming that Doha and Ankara are establishing spy networks in the GCC states to report on anti-Ikhwan planning and the future of GCC support for Egypt. This accusation goes to the very heart of the “non-interference in internal affairs” of GCC states.

A return to the 1990s?

The real question is what comes next. As of today, all the movement to create a GCC Union and to rally the monarchies around each other in defense and preservation of the old order of the Gulf region seems to be crumbling. What we could see next is a return to the days of the early 1990s when the Saudi-Qatari border was the site of occasional shoot-outs and road blockages in order let imported food rot by the side of the road. Qatar may also choose to use tribal disputes across the Gulf region, particularly the al-Murrah who have been pawns before between Riyadh and Doha.

We may see Qatar pull its Ambassadors from the GCC states which will further isolate Qatar, forcing Doha to move closer to Iran and Turkey. On the commercial front, there may be a closure of air space which would have a tremendous impact on Qatar Airlines plus the shutting down of trade of goods to Doha by both land and sea as noted above. Finally, we may also witness the restriction of gas flow via the Dolphin Project. In other words, all types of unofficial sanctions are plausible if Qatar does not make real, immediate, meaningful changes.

Overall, this event is a real test for Emir Tamim. The emir will need to make some real decisions. Arab officials have been noting for months the literal freeze in Doha about any meaningful movement in reforms and major business deals. Some of these officials argued that Qatar’s new leadership is under a one year probationary period as new Qatari officials and their staffs are still get use to the new leadership. If true, that means that the old regime of Father Emir is still in play and that his policies, and not his son’s, are still active.


Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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