Recalling envoys in Qatar is not a light decision
The unprecedented decision by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to recall their ambassadors from Qatar may have come as a surprise to some observers, but it was certainly not done in haste. The coordinated move followed months of effort by the GCC states to get Qatar to agree on a unified policy “to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state”, as a joint statement from the three nations put it. Given the close fraternal and neighbourly ties between the Gulf nations, the significance of this should not be underestimated.
At the heart of the issue is Qatar’s ambiguous foreign policy, in particular its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organisation that has been actively attempting to destabilising governments in this region. Doha has been accused of supporting Islamist elements in Syria and Yemen, and it has shielded the radical Egyptian cleric Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who made offensive remarks about the UAE in a televised sermon, prompting the foreign ministry in Abu Dhabi to issue a formal letter of protest to Qatar’s ambassador.
On the important regional issue of Egypt, Qatar is regarded as backing the Islamist supporters of toppled president Mohammed Morsi rather than following the lead of other GCC nations and embracing the current pathway towards truly representative government. In essence, Doha seems to have chosen the Muslim Brotherhood over the Egyptian people.
There are many unknowns in this situation, including the positions of other world players, notably the United States, which has a substantial military and communications presence in the Gulf, and the internal machinations in Doha under the new emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who assumed office last June after the abdication of his father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa.
There was a belief that Sheikh Hamad would adjust his nation’s foreign policy to be more in line with its GCC neighbours. But as Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at UAE University, told The National: “It seems that the old guard is still active and influential in Qatar.” That might be an overstatement. But perception is important in this case, and Qatar has to show that it understands the concerns of its neighbours. These concerns pertain to security, a fundamental principle behind the formation of the GCC in the first place.
The ball is now firmly in Doha’s court. Whether Qatar will continue to be the outlier in the Gulf, or whether it will sign the non-interference security accord, will have significant reverberations for many years to come.
Updated: March 6, 2014 04:00 AM