In its bid to protect what it termed national security, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Monday morning severed diplomatic ties to neighbouring, but equally oil-rich Qatar, which they claim is officially supporting terrorism.
Saudi is not alone, as other neighbour like the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have toed the line, just as UAE’s state owned- Etihad Airways says its planes would from Tuesday stop all flights to and from Doha, the Qatari capital, just as they all closed their ports.
The three Gulf states ordered Qatari visitors and residents to leave their countries within two weeks, Reuters news agency reported.
In an announcement on its state-run Saudi Press Agency early on Monday, Saudi accused Qatar of “harbouring a multitude of terrorist and sectarian groups that aim to create instability in the region”.
It also closed the border and halted air and sea traffic with Qatar, urging “all brotherly countries and companies to do the same”.
The statement appeared to be timed in concert with an earlier announcement by Bahrain, which was similarly cutting ties, while halting air and sea traffic between the two countries.
Reacting, Qatar’s foreign ministry expressed regrets over what it termed: “unjustified” measures by its neighbours, which it says are “based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.”
Obvious unperturbed, the statement assured that the decisions would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents.
“The aim is clear, and it is to impose guardianship on the state. This by itself is a violation of its (Qatar’s) sovereignty as a state,” it added.
This may just be showmanship.
Adel Abdel Ghafar, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, told CNN that this could have implications for Qatar’s food security, as she relies on food imports from Saudi, in particular dairy and poultry which is transported via land and air.
He identifies two main reasons for the spat:
Firstly, Qatar’s relationship with Iran — specifically, its refusal to fall in line with the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the other members of which are much more hostile towards the Shia-majority nation. Secondly, Qatar’s support of Islamists across the region in Egypt, Libya and other countries is a major point of contention with the UAE.
Bahrain’s foreign ministry issued a statement saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital, Doha, within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.
Egypt also announced the closure of its airspace and seaports for all Qatari transportation “to protect its national security”, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Etihad Airways, the UAE’s flag carrier, said it would suspend flights to and from Qatar beginning Tuesday morning.
It was not immediately clear how Monday’s announcement would affect other airlines.
A Saudi-led coalition which for more than two years has been fighting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen separately announced that Qatar was no longer welcome in the alliance.
A senior Iranian official was reported as saying the measures by the Arab nations would not help end the crisis in the Middle East.
“The era of cutting diplomatic ties and closing borders … is not a way to resolve crisis … As I said before, aggression and occupation will have no result but instability,” Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted, referring to the coalition’s involvement in Yemen.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a statement on Monday while on state visit in Australia, urging the Gulf states to stay united.
“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” he said in Sydney.
“If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) remain united.”
Tillerson said despite the impasse, he did not expect it to have “any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally”.
“All of those parties you mentioned have been quite unified in the fight against terrorism and the fight against Daesh, ISIS, and have expressed that most recently in the summit in Riyadh,” he added, using alternative names for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries escalated after a recent hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiralled since.
Following the hacking on Tuesday, comments falsely attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, were broadcast in Qatar.
Qatar’s government categorically denied that the comments, in which the country’s leader expressed support for Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel – while suggesting that US President Donald Trump may not last in power, were ever made.
“There are international laws governing such crimes, especially the cyberattack. [The hackers] will be prosecuted according to the law,” Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qatar’s foreign minister, said on Wednesday.