Saudi Arabia, Gulf states cut ties with Qatar; Iran blames Trump

Saudi Arabia, Gulf states cut ties with Qatar; Iran blames Trump

The Arab world's strongest powers cut ties with Qatar on Monday over alleged support for extremists and Iran, re-opening a festering wound two weeks after US President Donald Trump's demand for Muslim states to fight terrorism.


Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut relations with Qatar in a coordinated move. Yemen, Libya's eastern-based government and the Maldives joined in later.


Iran—long at odds with Saudi Arabia—immediately blamed US President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.


Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar's support for extremists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.


The coordinated move, with Yemen and Libya's eastern-based government joining in later, created a dramatic rift among the Arab nations, many of which are in OPEC.


Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups—some backed by regional arch-rival Iran—and broadcasting their ideology, 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 (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly," Saudi state news agency SPA said.


It accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi'ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.


Iran saw America pulling the strings.


"What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance," Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted in a reference to Trump's recent visit to Saudi Arabia.


Trump and other US officials participated in a traditional sword dance during the trip in which he called on Muslim countries to stand united against religious extremists and singled out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters in Sydney on Monday that the spat would not affect the fight against religious militants and that Washington has encouraged its Gulf allies to resolve their differences.


A split between Doha and its closest allies can have repercussions around the Middle East, where Gulf states have used their financial and political power to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.


Fallout


The economic fallout loomed immediately, as Abu Dhabi's state-owned Ethihad Airways, Dubai's Emirates Airline and budget carrier Flydubai said they would suspend all flights to and from Doha from Tuesday morning until further notice.


Qatar Airways said on its official website it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.


Qatar's stock market index sank 7.5 percent with some of the market's top blue chips hardest hit.


The measures are 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 militant groups. At that time, travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled.


The diplomatic broadside threatens the international prestige of Qatar, which hosts a large US military base and is set to host the 2022 World Cup. It has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region's many disputes.

'Lies, fabrications': Qatar 


Qatar said on Monday it was facing a campaign of lies and fabrications aimed at putting the Gulf Arab state under guardianship, after Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with it.


"The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications," the Qatari foreign ministry said.


It added that, as a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it was committed to its charter, respected the sovereignty of other states and did not interfere in their affairs.


Pakistan to stay away from conflict


Pakistan has no immediate plans to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, a spokesman for the foreign ministry said on Monday.


Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Nafees Zakria

The country "has no such plans," the spokesman, Nafees Zakaria, said, following the severing of ties with Qatar by Islamabad's key ally, Saudi Arabia, and three other Middle East nations.


"At the moment there is nothing on Qatar issue, (we) will issue a statement if some development takes place," Zakaria said.


Pakistan in recent years has been caught between the feud between its ally Saudi Arabia and neighbour Iran.


FIFA World Cup 2022 in 'danger'


The measures are 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 militant groups. At that time, travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled.


A split between Doha and its closest allies can have repercussions around the Middle East, where Gulf states have used their financial and political power to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.


The diplomatic broadside threatens the international prestige of Qatar, which hosts a large US military base and is set to host the 2022 World Cup. It has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region's many disputes.


Warships of the US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, in May 2007. Photo: Reuters

Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the US-based Baker Institute, said if Qatar's land borders and air space were closed for any length of time "it would wreak havoc on the timeline and delivery" of the World Cup.


Arab Spring


Qatar has used its media and political clout to support long-repressed groups during the 2011 pro-democracy "Arab Spring" uprisings in several Arab countries.


Muslim Brotherhood parties allied to Doha are now mostly on the backfoot in the region, especially after a 2013 military takeover in Egypt ousted the elected president.


The former army chief and now president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, along with the new government's allies in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, blacklist the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.


Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, said on its state news agency that Qatar's policy "threatens Arab national security and sows the seeds of strife and division within Arab societies according to a deliberate plan aimed at the unity and interests of the Arab nation."


Oil prices rose after the moves against Qatar, which is the biggest supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a major seller of condensate - a low-density liquid fuel and refining product derived from natural gas.


Iran says decision not help resolve Middle East crisis


A senior Iranian official said on Monday 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, deputy chief of staff of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted on Monday.