Qatar, the tiny emirate now being diplomatically frozen out of the region, is home to Al Udeid Airbase, home to about 10,000 American servicemen and a key strategic airbase for U.S. Central Command operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
What led to this existential crisis among the Arabian Gulf allies, known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)? How did it escalate so quickly? There are two parallel tracks to understand this timeline, one long-term and the other short.
Saudi, Egyptian and Emirati officials and residents say that at the core of their actions was the belief that for years, Qatar has been fueling the flames of radicalism and extremism, providing financial and moral support to groups long considered conservative, extremists or even terrorists by some. They believe Qatar is a force for destabilization in the region through meddling in the internal affairs of others.
They cite Qatar’s willingness to host exiled religious and political leaders from Egypt, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has deemed the brotherhood a terrorist organization, and in 2013 its military forcibly removed the group’s president from power. Qatar has long housed the leadership of Hamas, the militant Palestinian group considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel. And Qatar has allowed the Taliban, the violent and ultra-conservative Afghan group, to set up an office in Doha in an attempt to foster an Afghan reconciliation dialogue.
In addition, Qatar’s influence increased in stature over the years with the growth of its pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, a channel that was once celebrated as the first independent news channel of its kind in a region where information was traditionally the sole property of the state and its agencies.