‘Message to Qatar has been clear,’ UAE analysts say
ABU DHABI // The ball is now in Qatar’s court, local analysts have said, as the rift between it and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt reached unprecedented levels on Monday.
After the countries cut diplomatic ties with their Gulf neighbour, experts warned the significant move may have serious implications on the region.
“The current rift is unprecedented in the diplomatic history of the GCC,” said Dr Albadr Al Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College. “The isolation of Qatar by the major GCC countries is far-reaching and will affect Qatar negatively - Qatari nationals will not be able to perform Hajj or Umra without prior approval from the Saudi authorities, neither will they be able to visit Dubai, a Gulf-favoured tourist destination, without a UAE visa.”
He said the political fallout might be serious for the cohesion of the GCC. “It is certain and surely within the realm of possibilities that Qatar’s membership will be suspended,” he said. “Qatar might be left with no choice but to form an axis that includes Oman, Iran and Turkey. It [might] also increase its support to the extremist groups to defy its detractors.”
The political rift has been growing for years. In May 2014, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Doha in a protest at its interference in their internal affairs as they asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member”. They also disagree with its policy on Egypt, where Doha supported the deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi.
“Qatar pledged to change its ways after ambassadors were recalled from Doha, especially towards Egypt,” Dr Al Shateri added. “And it would cease its support to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group reviled by the UAE.”
But the strained relations grew and the steps now taken by the GCC countries were said to be long in the making due to Qatar’s relationship with and support of Muslim Brotherhood members and funding of groups in Syria and Libya, experts said.
“This is a very serious issue for the UAE and the message to Qatar has been clear,” said Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai. “The severity of the consequences have also been made clear in very strong ways by isolating Doha with measures that will hurt. Qatar’s decision taken now will be crucial in determining what happens next.”
He said there has been real divergence at the highest political levels involving Qatar. “These tensions were inevitably going to boil over if gaps were not bridged - but they actually increased,” he said. The message [from these countries] to Qatar has been clear in terms of what Doha needs to change.”
Mr Khan said this was a rallying call from leading Arab states. “They’re giving shape to a new regional strategy, which will fill the missing links,” he added. “There has been a very loud and clear message: With shared destinies comes shared responsibilities and goals, and outside of this, there are repercussions.”
Although Qatar announced its regret of the countries’ decision to sever relations, the region’s future appears grim.
“Qatar is well-known to be supportive of terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and, going back a bit further, the Taliban,” said Dr Richard Burchill, director of research and engagement at the Abu Dhabi think-tank Trends Research and Advisory.
“The 2015 [US] State Department Report on Terrorism made clear that the Qatari government allows for financers and organisers of terrorist organisations to operate freely there. In this situation, the states in the region need to take action as a security measure, as reports keep coming out that Qatar is not taking sufficient or appropriate action to stem support for terrorists.”
He said the threat from terrorism was very real. “Much needs to be done to defeat the forces funding and supporting terrorism and extremists,” he added. “States are within their sovereign rights under international law to take individual and collective action when the actions of another state threaten security.”
Updated: June 6, 2017 04:00 AM