ABU DHABI // The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Doha in an unprecedented protest at Qatar’s interference in their internal affairs.
GCC states “have exerted massive efforts to contact Qatar on all levels to agree on a unified policy … to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state,” the three nations said after a meeting of GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh.
They had also asked Qatar, which is perceived as a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, "not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member".
Qatar’s cabinet expressed “regret and surprise” and said the protest had “nothing to do with the interests, security and stability of GCC peoples but rather a difference in positions on issues out of the GCC”. The three states also disagree with Qatar’s policy on Egypt, where Doha supported the deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
The withdrawal of ambassadors is “unprecedented in the 33 years of GCC history”, said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at UAE University.
“We never had a relationship between Qatar and the rest of the countries as bad as it is at this moment and I think it is mostly Qatar to blame.”
He said Qatar had made a number of promises but had failed to deliver. “Some of these include changing the way they conduct things, changing their alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, accommodating some people who were wanted by the UAE, and I think they didn’t keep up to some articles of the pact which they signed and, as a result, the Saudis, and especially the UAE, have run out of patience.
"It seems that the old guard is still active and influential in Qatar," where the former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani abdicated last year in favour of his son Tamim.
“It seems that the new leadership in Qatar is either unable or just doesn’t want to hold to their promises, which is either very sad or even worse if they don’t want to.”
Prof Abdulla said Qatar's new emir was under "a lot of pressure within Qatar to stay the course. But now there is also tremendous pressure coming from the GCC, Saudi, and the UAE, which are the closest to Qatar so he's in a very awkward position.
“He’s about to lose some of the closest friends and allies so the ball is in his court right now and, hopefully, he’ll come up with something more convincing.”
Mohammed bin Huwaidin, associate professor of political science at UAE University, said the protest was a result of the GCC’s failing to convince Qatar to change its stance towards supporting activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in GCC countries and in others where the GCC had vital interests, such as Yemen and Syria.
“The differences are in regard to Qatar providing the Muslim Brotherhood with a base so they can launch their attack on countries like the UAE,” he said. “It’s definitely going to worsen their relationship. It’s not on good terms, especially with Oman working with the US in hosting the dialogue between Iran and the US.”
He said Qatar held a challenging position but it had to react. “This could lead to some deterioration in relation to GCC countries but we have to wait and see the Qataris’ reaction to it.
“Will it think that the GCC’s security is more important to it than just supporting some elements like the Muslim Brotherhood and achieve some strategic goals or should it continue supporting it against the interest of its allies in the GCC?
“It seems like Qatar is going to stay with its position and, since Kuwait has not taken the same action as the UAE, Saudi and Bahrain, I think there will be a chance for it to play an important mediation or diplomatic role in order to bring down this kind of tension.”
Hussein Shobokshi, a Saudi columnist, said the escalation between Qatar and the UAE had been going on for a while. “It was expected but it is still kind of a surprise,” he said.
“The UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have used all diplomatic and behind-the-scenes tactics and the threats of the Qataris’ position with the Muslim Brotherhood has been causing a lot of anxiety in the area. They had to take this stand and they had no other choice left.”
He expects escalation on the economic front in the near future. “They will suspend the economic cooperation between the two and joint ventures will be suspended,” he said.
“It’s going to get worse. I think, psychologically, the mood is going to pause for any future developments and, on a short term prospect, I don’t think things are going to look good because it’s a matter of who is going to blink first.”
* Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse