Escalating Qatar Diplomatic Row

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Seven countries, including three Gulf-state neighbours, cut ties with Qatar for supporting terrorism.

  • Gulf-state neighbours close land, sea and air routes
  • Looming economic crisis and food shortage
  • Severed ties likely to hit Qatar Airways, Al-Jazeera, preparations for football World Cup 2022

The governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Egypt broke off relations with Qatar yesterday, followed suit by Libya and the Maldives.

The Gulf states announced that they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar, accusing the country of supporting terrorism and destabilising the region through its support of Islamist groups and its relations with regional arch-rival Iran.

Kuwait and Oman are the only members of the Gulf Cooperation Council that have not joined the boycott.

The coordinated move dramatically escalates a dispute over Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups and broadcasting their ideology, in an apparent reference to Qatar’s influential state-owned satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

“(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Al Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” the Saudi state news agency SPA said.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” toward Egypt and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed”.

The tiny island nation of Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities, and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.

Qatar long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbours over its support of Islamists.

The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.

The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments from its ruling emir about Iran and Israel.

Its Gulf Arab neighbours responded with anger, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.

Qatar is also a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012.

The Qatari government expressed dismay at its neighbours’ moves to isolate it, calling the decision “unjustified and based on baseless allegations.”

It said the decision was a “violation of its sovereignty” and vowed that it would not impact its citizens.

Land, Sea and Air Routes Closed

Apart from suspending flights in and out of Qatar, the three Gulf states threatened a total land and sea blockade of the gas-rich nation.

Saudi Arabia banned Qatar Airways from flying to the kingdom, or using its airspace, starting Tuesday. And all Saudi carriers were banned, with immediate effect, from flying to Doha.

Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation authority said any carrier from a third country wishing to fly over the kingdom to Qatar would need to apply within a week for special permission.

Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad said it was suspending flights to Qatar starting Tuesday morning “until further notice”.

Similarly, Dubai-based carrier Emirates announced it would be halting all flights to Qatar from Tuesday.

The UAE said it was closing its airspace and seaports for Qataris and “banning all Qatari means of transportation.”

Budget carrier FlyDubai also said it would be cancelling its flights to Qatar from Tuesday.

Gulf Air, the national carrier of Bahrain, said its Doha service would also be suspended until further notice.

Qatar Airways, the national carrier, said it was halting flights to Saudi Arabia but gave no information about its services to the UAE or other countries that have severed ties.

Etihad, Emirates and Qatar Airways were among 10 airlines on which the Trump administration imposed tough new restrictions in March. The carriers are now required to prevent passengers flying from their Middle East hubs to the United States from carrying almost all types of electronic devices in the cabin.

Severing Ties

The three Gulf states also gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave their countries.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt all announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar.

The UAE government gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the UAE “for precautionary security reasons.” UAE citizens are also banned from travelling or transiting through Qatar.

Saudi Arabia said Qatari troops will be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen.

Looming Crisis

Oil price spiked amid the Gulf diplomatic rift, with the Qatar Stock Exchange falling sharply.

With Qatar relying almost entirely on imports to feed its population, Qataris are reportedly stockpiling goods from supermarkets amid fears over food shortage.

Doha News

The blockade could hit Qatar Airways the most and raise questions about the future of Al-Jazeera, as well as affect preparations for the football World Cup Qatar is due to host in 2022.

The sprawling al-Udeid air base is home to the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It is yet unclear if American military operations would be affected.