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Tensions heat up in the Gulf as UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain recall their ambassadors from Qatar

GCC Meeting in Riyadh March 2014

The smiles are for the camera only!

Tensions are once again heating up in the Gulf.  This time Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are ganging up on the Qatar.  Rising tension is not new, what is new is the fact that other GCC members are tired of Qatar stepping out of line and not following the prescribed protocol.

 

The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain said on Wednesday they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar because Doha had not implemented an agreement among Gulf Arab countries not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.

Qatar said it will not withdraw its envoys from UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain despite differences in matters which it said were “external to the GCC”.

The move by the three countries, conveyed in a joint statement, is unprecedented in the three-decade history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), an alliance of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman.

Qatar has been a maverick in the region, backing Islamist groups in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow GCC members.

GCC foreign ministers had met in Riyadh on Tuesday to try to persuade Qatar to implement the agreement, it said. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy”.

“But unfortunately, these efforts did not result in Qatar’s agreement to abide by these measures, which prompted the three countries to start what they saw as necessary, to protect their security and stability, by withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar starting from today, March 5 2013,” the statement said.

GCC countries “have exerted massive efforts to contact Qatar on all levels to agree on a unified policy… to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state,” the statement said.

The nations have also asked Qatar “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing media campaigns against them in particular.

Media reports have said that Shaikh Tamim was given an ultimatum by Saudi Arabia in the November meeting in Riyadh that was facilitated by the Kuwaiti emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmed. The new emir was told to change Qatar’s ways and bring the country in line with the rest of the GCC with regards to regional issues. The GCC has in particular been concerned about Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, its close relations with Turkey, its opposition to the new regime in Egypt and its perceived support for Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Shaikh Tamim reportedly signed a pledge to comply and asked for a six month period to reorient his country, citing obstacles from remnants of the previous regime that was led by his father Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa in which the controversial prime minister and foreign minister Hamad Bin Jassem Al Thani wielded enormous influence. Kuwait’s efforts to resolve the two countries’ differences stemmed from its reported desire to avoid a confrontation between the two sides in the GCC summit it was expected to hold the subsequent month. Shaikh Tamim was reportedly warned that relations with GCC states would deteriorate significantly if Qatar would not change its ways.

The Qatari government has also raised its neighbours’ ire for failing to end its relations with the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which has been deeply involved the civil war in Syria, siding with the regime of Bashar Al Assad. Early last December, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said he had received an envoy from Qatar, the first contact between the two sides since divisions over the crisis in Syria severed their once strong relations.

Qatar, which used to enjoy close relations with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Turkey and Bashar Al Assad’s Syria, has in recent years found itself isolated after relations with Hezbollah, Iran and Al Assad deteriorated. The GCC’s decision is expected to further isolate the new emir.

Read the full story from Gulf News.

 

Whatever the noise is around the Qatar story, the real reason tensions are rising is because the GCC more than ever needs to act as one unified voice and power, especially with Iran gaining influence in the region (i.e. Bahrain, Iraq, Syria).   Iran continues to be a thorn in the side of the other GCC countries.  Having a rogue member go off on its own and, god forbid, have its own foreign policy will not be tolerated.