Six Arab nations, led by Saudi Arabia, have cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in a move that suggests a deepening rift between the Gulf leaders.
It was thought to be triggered by a growing dispute over Qatar’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement, however Doha’s alleged interest in closer ties with Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival, Iran is also thought to be a significant reason for the move.
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Bahrain was the first to announce it had cut ties, followed by Saudi Arabia early this morning. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Yemen and Libya followed suit, saying they planned to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.
Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen, with the rift between the leading Gulf nations thought to have deepened after US president Donald Trump’s visit to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, and the signing of the largest ever arms deal between Saudi and the US.
The sudden development led to a sell off of Qatari assets, which is one of the richest counties in the region and is set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
Qatar’s benchmark stock exchange is down nearly six per cent at the start of trading this morning.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the development would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.
Abu Dhabi’s state-owned Etihad Airways said it would suspend all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice.
Oil prices jumped on the news, with Saudi Arabia the world’s biggest exporter of crude oil and Abu Dhabi in the UAE also a major oil exporter.
Qatar is however the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas and a major seller of condensate – a low-density liquid fuel and refining product derived from natural gas.
Global benchmark Brent advanced 1.1 percent to $50.48 a barrel while US West Texas Intermediate climbed one percent to $48.17.
What’s the reason for the sudden change?
According to a statement reported by Al Jazeera, Qatar’s foreign ministry called the other nations’ decision “unjustified”, and vowed that the move would not affect the “normal lives of citizens and residents”.
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Accord to a Bloomberg report it is “mostly, but not all, about Iran“.
The spark for this flare-up was a report by the state-run Qatar News Agency that carried comments by Qatar ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani criticizing mounting anti-Iran sentiment. Qatari officials quickly deleted the comments, blamed them on hackers and appealed for calm. Criticism by Saudi and UAE media outlets escalated after Sheikh Tamim phoned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the weekend in apparent defiance of Saudi criticism.
Peter Sluglett, visiting research professor at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, told CNBC:
It’s clearly an attempt to get the Qataris in line and not support Iran or the Muslim Brotherhood.
The rift has been brewing for some time.
In May Qatar alleged 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 and blocked Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
What have the Gulf nations 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.