Four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar early Monday morning, further deepening a rift among Gulf Arab nations over that country’s support for Islamist groups.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all announced they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar, a gas-rich nation that will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Saudi Arabia also said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen.
All the nations also said they planned to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers. The airline and Qatari government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar is also home to the sprawling al-Udeid Air Base, which is home to the U.S. military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops. It wasn’t clear if the decision would affect American military operations. Central Command officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
‘Support for armed terrorist activities’
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. Other countries issued similar statements.
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May 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, blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
Qatar long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbours over its support of Islamists. The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as it challenges the nations’ hereditary rule.
Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a Brotherhood member. In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift. Eight months later, they returned their ambassadors as Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others. However, the 2014 crisis did not see a land and sea blockade as threatened now.
Key patron of Hamas
In the time since, Qatar repeatedly and strongly denied it funds extremist groups. However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khaled Mashaal since 2012. Western officials also have accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Sunni extremists like al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front.
The crisis also comes after U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia for a summit with Arab leaders. Since the meeting, unrest in the region has grown.
At that Saudi conference, Trump met with Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
“We are friends, we’ve been friends now for a long time, haven’t we?” Trump asked at the meeting. “Our relationship is extremely good.”