Qatar - GCC Relations
Qatar's close relations with Turkey and Iran have undermined regional security. Egypt and the UAE view Qatar and Turkey's support of the Muslim Brotherhood as a security threat and have deemed the group a terrorist organization. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are primarily concerned with Qatar's close ties with regional foe Iran.
Saudi Arabia and its three Arab allies agreed to restore full ties with Doha at a summit in the kingdom on 05 January 2020. Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told a news conference after the gathering of Gulf Arab states, also attended by Egypt, that there was political will and good faith to guarantee implementation of the agreement to restore diplomatic and other ties, including resumption of flights.
Qatar’s ruling emir arrived in Saudi Arabia for a Gulf summit and was greeted with an embrace by the kingdom's crown prince on Tuesday, following an announcement that the kingdom would end its yearslong embargo on the tiny Gulf Arab state. Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was met in the historic city of Al-Ula by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men, wearing face masks, embraced on the tarmac. The Qatari emir's arrival at Al-Ula was broadcast live on Saudi state TV while the media in Qatar hailed the "warm" embrace ahead of a "landmark" Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit.
The diplomatic breakthrough came after a final push by the outgoing Trump administration and fellow Gulf state Kuwait to mediate an end to the crisis. It came just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration as Riyadh braced for a new administration that is expected to take a firmer stance toward the kingdom.
Qatar's only land border has been mostly closed since June mid-2017, when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain launched a blockade against the small, but influential Persian Gulf country. The Saudi border, which Qatar relied on for the import of dairy products, construction materials and other goods, opened briefly during the past three years to allow Qataris into Saudi Arabia to perform the Islamic Hajj pilgrimage.
It was unclear what concessions Qatar had made regarding a shift in its policies. While the Saudi decision to end its embargo marks a key milestone toward resolving the Gulf spat, the path toward full reconciliation is far from guaranteed. The rift between Abu Dhabi and Doha has been deepest, with the UAE and Qatar at sharp ideological odds.
The Qatari crisis played into the hands of the Russian and Syrian governments as many armed Syrian rebel groups received aid from Qatar and now would face certain difficulties. By 10 June 2017 anti-Damascus groups sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar had suspended their actions against the Syrian Army.
On 23 June 2017 Kuwait handed over a list of demands to Qatar from neigboring countries Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and Egypt. The list of demands included shutting down Al Jazeera, cutting diplomatic ties with Iran and immediately halting the establishing of a Turkish military base in Qatar and ending any military cooperation with the NATO member. The demands also include ending Doha’s support for terrorists and abandoning internationally and regionally listed figures. More broadly, the list demands that Qatar align itself politically, economically and otherwise with the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Iran provisions in the document say Qatar must shut down diplomatic posts in Iran, kick out from Qatar any members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and only conduct trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US sanctions. The countries gave Doha 10 days to comply.
Food items from Turkey lined the shelves in stores across Qatar after several of its neighbours imposed an economic blockade on the tiny Gulf nation during the holy month of Ramadan. Turkish products met the high demand for food items in stores across Qatar, which was facing an economic blockade from fellow Arab countries. After vowing its full support for the tiny Gulf nation, Ankara moved to send stockpiles of food and water supplies aboard cargo planes. Qatari chain supermarkets announced on social media that daily food products from Turkey such as milk, yoghurt, and chicken were now being sold in stores.
Iran sent five planes of vegetables to Qatar which has been hit by a land, air and sea blockade brought about by the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain. “So far five planes carrying… vegetables have been sent to Qatar, each carrying around 90 tonnes of cargo, while another plane will be sent today,” Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi said on 11 June 2017. “We will continue deliveries as long as there is demand” from Qatar, Noushabadi added, without mentioning if these deliveries were exports or aid.
Qatar said 11 June 2017 citizens of states that have cut ties with the emirate will be allowed to stay in the country despite measures against its own nationals. A statement carried on state media said Doha would "not take any measures against residents of Qatar who hold the nationalities of countries that severed diplomatic ties or lowered diplomatic representations with the state of Qatar, on the back of hostile and tendentious campaigns against the country". It said Qatar was acting in "accordance with its firm beliefs and principles". The decision will affect more than 11,000 people from the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain alone, according to official figures.
Qatar on 09 June 2017 said that despite a move by fellow Arab states to isolate it in a row over alleged ties to terrorism it is not ready to change its foreign policy to settle the dispute and would never compromise or “surrender” to the pressure. Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani spoke as would-be mediators ranging from US President Donald Trump to Kuwait’s ruling emir struggled to ease a crisis that Qataris say has led to a blockade of their nation. “We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy,” Sheikh Mohammed told reporters in Doha. “We have been isolated because we are successful and progressive. We are a platform for peace not terrorism... This dispute is threatening the stability of the entire region.”
Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt issued a list of individuals and entities they said had "terrorist" links to Qatar, in their first joint statement since ties were cut. The group said the list shows Qatar "announces fighting terrorism on one hand and finances and supports and hosts different terrorist organisations on the other hand." But the document contains at least two names already designated internationally as terrorist financiers, and against whom Qatar took action, according to a previous US Department of State report.
On 29 May 2017 retired general Mahmoud Mansour, Qatari intelligence founder, told Al Arabiya that “Doha has lost its mind” as a diplomatic spat between the country and its Gulf neighbors widened in recent days. “Iran needed to penetrate some Arab countries needed an Arab force to introduce them more and more within the Arab fabric, so it addressed her intentions through the friend who lost their mind, Qatar,” Mansour told Al Arabiya.
On 05 June 2017 Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and several other countries cut ties with Qatar accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world. The countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, and halted all land, sea and air contact with the Gulf state, accusing it of supporting "terrorism and extremism." Yemen's internationally recognised government and Libya's eastern-based government, both in countries with disputed leaderships, followed suit, and also cut ties.
The GCC rift followed Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met leaders of the Arab world. The night before Trump's visit, the former US defence secretary, Robert Gates, offered a scathing assault on Qatar, criticised its support for "Islamists". The speech was delivered at a high-profile Washington conference, where Gates said, "Tell Qatar to choose sides or we will change the nature of the relationship, to include downscaling the base".
The coordinated move dramatically escalated a dispute over Qatar's support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world's oldest Islamist movement and armed groups like Hamas, and added accusations that Doha even backs the agenda of regional arch-rival Iran.
“The new policy is also designed to create fissures in the Qatari ruling family and grounds for a coup. Members of the ruling family could push Emir Tamim to the side to resolve the crisis or elements of the military could rise against the leadership,” Eurasia Group’s Ayham Kamel said in a note to clients. “The Qatari air force has been on high alert since the morning and the Gulf leaders would prefer a swift end to the crisis through a bloodless transfer of power. While a change in the Qatari leadership is possible, it is not yet our baseline scenario.”
Failure to force Qatar to its knees could force Saudi Arabia and the UAE to look at other ways of forcing Qatar to comply, including regime change, either by invading the tiny Gulf state or engineering an internal coup. Saudi and UAE media reports nonetheless suggest that the Gulf states may be seeking a coup.
The Saudi Al-Riyadh newspaper in a report titled “5 Coups in 46 Years … The 6th Coup Is Not Unlikely,” discussed the issue of Qatar and threatened to oust the Qatari emir. The daily claimed that members of the Al Thani family (Qatar’s main rulers and cousins of Tamim, the current ruler of Qatar) have, in a letter to the Saudi king, disavowed the orders by their “thoughtless emir”. the Al-Riyadh newspaper wrote that the “letter by the Al Thani family shows the depth of rifts within Qatari rulers as family members themselves have announced that they are fed up with Tamim bin Hamed’s policies and it is likely that a new coup will take place within the Qatari government, and during the coup the main ruling family will take helm of the affairs.” Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt began closing land, air and sea passage to all vessels and vehicles coming from or going to Qatar. The UAE and Saudi Arabia gave Qatari citizens who were residents in or visiting the UAE two weeks to depart. They also ordered their citizens in Qatar to return. The measures were more severe than during a previous eight-month rift in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, again alleging Qatari support for armed groups. At that time, travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled. The Maldives, Mauritius, Mauritania and the eastern-based government in divided Libya also announced a break in relations with Doha, while Jordan and Djibouti said they would lower the level of diplomatic contacts with Qatar. Senegal and Chad recalled their ambassadors from Doha.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged the Gulf Cooperation Council nations to sort out their differences. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that they did not expect the decision by the Gulf countries to affect the fight against terrorism.
President Donald Trump on 09 June 2017 doubled down on his criticism of Qatar, the tiny Gulf country involved in a spiraling diplomatic crisis with its Arab neighbors. "The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level," Trump said at a Rose Garden news conference. Trump's comments came minutes after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for calm and an ease to the blockade imposed against Qatar by its neighbors. Tillerson said the blockade was causing "unintended" humanitarian and business consequences and was "hindering U.S. military actions in the region and the campaign against ISIS," or the Islamic State terrorist group.
Yakov Kedmi, a retired high-ranking Israeli intelligence official, told Sputnik 08 June 2017 that the overthrow of Qatar’s royal family and, possibly, even the elimination of Qatar's statehood through its annexation to Saudi Arabia could be the endgame for Saudi Arabia in the recent diplomatic conflict. "Even though the United States declared its neutrality, it is hard to believe that the developments of the recent days were not approved by Washington. I am not 100 percent sure what the main goal is. However, I think that it may be aimed, at a minimum, at changing Qatar's policy or overthrowing the royal family. As an extreme option, it could be aimed at the elimination of Qatar as an independent state and its annexation to Saudi Arabia," Kedmi said.
The row looked like a well-planned operation designed to end Qatar's independent foreign policy, maintained by Doha for decades with the support of the United States, after US President Donald Trump chose to support Saudi Arabia instead, according to Kedmi. "Under President Clinton, Bush and Obama, Qatar received a broad political support and was one of the main allies of the Americans in the region. Qatar is the largest investor into the US economy and in the political infrastructure of the United States and its politicians. When Trump recently has visited the Middle East and met with the Arab leaders, he demanded from the Arab states to end their support of all terrorist organizations including IS, Al-Qaeda and Hamas. These talks served as a basis for this diplomatic rift," he explained.
Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Middle East Studies director Vitaly Naumkin, said 12 June 2017 ""Qatar's Arab neighbors are demanding not so much the termination of the financing of recognized terrorist groups (which are being supported by other Arab states as well), so much as a refusal by Doha to engage in rapprochement with Iran, the expulsion of the Muslim Brotherhood and the leaders of the Hamas movement, the closure of media resources such as Al-Jazeera, Alquds Alarabi, the Arabic version of the Huffington Post, and the London-based Middle East Eye and Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed newspapers."
Naumkin revealed that the ultimate aim of Qatar's opponents was the resignation of the emir. In this situation, the expert said that even if Doha compromises and concedes every point in the ultimatum, new demands might be presented.
Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Jarallah said on Friday 04 December 2020 that a final agreement had been reached on the Gulf crisis, between Qatar on one side and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on the other side. "The Gulf dispute is long, and a final agreement was reached under the auspices of Kuwaiti and American people," Al-Jarallah explained, in statements to Al-Sharq News Network. Al-Jarallah indicated that "steps after the agreement to end the Gulf dispute will be well studied and calculated." He explained that "the efforts of US President Donald Trump's advisor, Jared Kushner, contributed to resolving the dispute, and that the solution agreement will be followed by steps to build confidence." The Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs affirmed that "there are great and continuous efforts by all parties to the Gulf dispute to resolve the crisis."
Qatar desired to counter Saudi influence wherever possible. The relationship with Riyadh had been strained following perceptions in the Kingdom that Al Jazeera's coverage of the Saudi royal family was unflattering, leading the Saudis to pull their ambassador. However, a Saudi ambassador returned to Doha in 2008, and relations are generally improving after Qatar toned down criticism of the Saudi royal family on Al Jazeera.
Divisions deepened in March 2014 when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) failed to implement an agreement between Gulf monarchies not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. The United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain decided 15 November 2014 to return their ambassadors to Qatar after an emergency meeting in Riyadh.
Problems between UAE and other Arab states accumulated in the weeks before the latest Arab-Islamic-American Summit.
The website of the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera news channel was blocked in Saudi Arabia and the UAE on 24 May 2017. This was a political decision and a direct attack on the Emir of Qatar. The media war began after statements attributed to Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani were released on Qatar's state news agency website a day earlier. The statements drew the ire of Saudi and Emirati governments on the back of the Trump administration's visit to Saudi Arabia.
On 27 May 2017, Qatar's ruling emir Tamim bin Hamad al Thani called Iranian President Hasan Rouhani to congratulate him on his re-election. The call was a clear, public rebuttal of Saudi Arabia's efforts to force Qatar to fall in line against the Shia-ruled nation, which the Sunni kingdom sees as enemy number one and a threat to regional stability.
The Qatari government claimed that the formal reason for the conflict was fake news story planted by hacker on the website of Qatar’s news agency on May 23. The state agency Qatar News Agency site published quotes from the Emir, which said, “There is no wisdom in harbouring hostility towards Iran” in response to the US president's first foreign trip to Riyadh at the Arab-Islamic-American summit. More controversially, the quotes concluded that relations with Israel are "good" and that Hamas was the official representative of Palestinians. Qatar's foreign ministry claimed that its state agency had been hacked and the statements were forged. The story attributed false remarks to the national leaders, in which he questioned how long United States President Donald Trump would remain in office. Doha quickly responded, saying that the website was hacked, which was later confirmed by FBI specialists.
Saudi Arabia's state news agency said 05 June 2017 the kingdom had decided to sever diplomatic and consular relations with Qatar "proceeding from the exercise of its sovereign right guaranteed by international law and the protection of national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism."
Abu Dhabi's state-owned Etihad Airways will suspend all flights to and from Doha until further notice. Dubai-based budget carrier FlyDubai said it would also suspend flights to and from Doha. The Dubai-based airline Emirates also suspended flights to Qatar.
A senior Iranian official said the decision by some Gulf Arab states and Egypt to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar 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, the deputy chief of staff of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, said.
Saudi Arabia claimed that Qatar is supporting "Iranian-backed terrorist groups" in the Saudi province of Qatif and in Bahrain, accusations that Doha called a "campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication". Riyadh also said "authorities in Doha" have supported the Iran-backed Houthi armed group in Yemen. This despite Qatar's deployment of an estimated 1,000 troops to support the two-year Saudi-led campaign there.
Qatar’s $1-billion ransom deal to release royal family members kidnapped in Iraq was allegedly one of the reasons the Gulf monarchies’ decided to severe diplomatic ties with Doha, the Financial Times (FT) reported 06 June 2017. In particular, the newspaper’s report refers to commanders of militant groups and government officials with knowledge of the hostage deal. According to them, Doha spent around $1 billion to secure the release of 26 members of a Qatari hunting party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by Islamists in Syria.
In April 2017, 26 royals, many of them cousins of the Qatari emir, were handed over to the Iraqi government by the local Shia Kataib Hezbollah group, believed to be behind the kidnapping, which happened during a December 2015 falconry trip in Iraq. Two Middle East diplomats told the Financial Times they believed the kidnapping of the royals was done to give Hezbollah and predominantly Shia Iran “leverage” to negotiate the release of Shia fighters abducted by Tahrir al-Sham, which is an Al-Qaeda offshoot in Syria. According to FT sources, Qatar ended up paying ransom to both Iranian security officials and Islamists, causing uproar in Gulf capitals.
Unlike previous disputes, when Qatar took immediate conciliatory actions to Saudi and the UAE, Doha is taking a more "defiant" stand this time. Iran offered food shipments to Qatar. Reza Nourani, chairman of Iran's union of agricultural exporters, said such transfers can reach Doha in 12 hours.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that isolating Qatar, including through the use of sanctions, would not resolve the rift. "It will not contribute to solving any problem to try and isolate Qatar, which we know for sure has fought very effectively against terrorist groups," he said on 06 June 2017. Erdogan said Ankara will do everything in its power to help end the crisis. Turkish exporters expressed their willingness to meet Qatar’s food and water supplies to stave off possible shortages after its biggest suppliers, including Saudi Arabia.
Trump tweeted 06 June 2017 that the split with Qatar could be the “beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism,” and appeared to claim credit for the pressure being placed on the country, saying his recent visit to Saudi Arabia was “already paying off.”
According to an 06 June 2017 report by CNN, the FBI sent a team of investigators to the theater to help Qatari officials look into the reports that a cyberattack resulted in the erroneous statements appearing on the Qatar News Agency. The FBI linked the attack to Russian hackers — though they couldn’t say whether the hack was carried out by a criminal group or was government-backed. CBS echoed CNN’s findings, saying that the investigation is specifically focusing on Russian interference.
Gevorg Mirzayan, Associate Professor at the Department of Political Sciences of Finance University under the Russian Government, suggested that "Russia’s political role in the Middle East has recently increased. The Kremlin can be regarded as a guarantor of security and political partner. In turn, increased political presence in the Gulf would serve Moscow’s interests. There a lot of differences between Moscow and Doha, but the current political situation requires cooperation".
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|