United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, severed all diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday. The move further deepens the rift among the Gulf countries over Qatar’s relations with Iran and its support for the Islamist groups active in the region.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency announced that the countries are also ejecting Qatari visitors and residents from their countries and have given them two weeks’ time. Saudi Arabia shares border with Qatar, an oil rich nation which will also be hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2022. Qatar is also an important ally of the US in the Middle East, and is also home to Al-Udeid Air Base, which is the abode of US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. The country has not commented upon this sudden decision that has sent ripples throughout the Gulf.
The four nations also declared their decision to shut air and sea traffic. The Saudi Kingdom also plans to close its land border with Qatar, which would cut the country off from the rest of the Arabian Peninsula.
However, it wasn’t made clear by any of the countries how this announcement would affect Qatar Airways, one of the major long-haul carriers of the Gulf region, which flies through Saudi airspace.
While no response was made by Qatar Airways, on the other hand, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways declared that it would suspend all its flights to Qatar “until further notice”.
Saudi Arabia cited Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region” including Muslim brotherhood of Al-Qaida and Islamic State. 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.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Qatar of taking an “antagonist approach” towards Egypt and said “all attempts to stop it from supporting terrorist groups failed”. The United Arab Emirates also joined the league and cut off all the diplomatic ties with Qatar.
The decision was taken after some comments about Iran and Israel, made by Qatar’s ruling Emir, were published on the website of a state-run news agency in late May. While Qatar alleged that hackers took over the website and published the “fake comments”, its Gulf Arab neighbors responded with great anger, blocking all Qatar-based media, including the renowned satellite new network Al-Jazeera.