Arab countries are cutting ties with Qatar — and here’s why that is a big, big problem
Amid the thousands of news stories flooding the internet and airwaves on Monday, five Arab countries breaking ties with Qatar may seem to pale in comparison to politicians using the N-word or British leaders attacking an American president. However, for those who care about terrorism beyond the sound bites, the news about isolating the country is a problem.
The countries have all accused Qatar of backing the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and Al-Qaeda and as such, have ordered the expulsion of diplomats and staff from their borders, Foreign Policy reported. The support for the Muslim Brotherhood seems to be what is behind Egypt’s concern, as the government considers the group a terrorist organization. Another problem is that the Qatar outlet Al Jazeera has frequently been critical of Saudi and Egyptian authorities.
Over the years, Qatar’s open relationship with Iran has caused problems with the Saudis as Riyadh considers it a “geopolitical archrival,” FP noted. Things got worse when Gulf states blocked Al Jazeera after a Qatari emir criticized Saudi Arabia on state media outlets and spoke in favor of strengthening relations with Iran. Qatar calls the comments fake and said that the news agency was hacked.
“I do not expect that this will have any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified — the unified — fight against terrorism in the region or globally,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences.”
Tillerson went on to caution against a break-up of the Gulf Cooperation Council states noting, “we’re seeing is a growing list of some irritants in the region that have been there for some time.”
Rex Tillerson said it’s important that the Gulf states remain unified and encouraged the various parties to address their differences. Speaking at a news conference in Sydney, he said the crisis won’t undermine the fight on terrorism. “What we’re seeing is a growing list of some irritants in the region that have been there for some time,” Tillerson said. “Obviously they’ve now bubbled up to a level that countries decided they needed to take action in an effort to have those differences addressed.”
“Qatar is right in the middle of the GCC countries and it has tried to pursue an independent foreign policy,” said Peter Sluglett, director of the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore. “The idea is to bring Qatar to heel.”
The country has a vast wealth due to liquefied natural gas but also possesses many international relationships beyond resources. The country has committed to a $35 billion investment in American assets, according to Bloomberg. The 2022 World Cup is also scheduled to be hosted in the country. The U.S. military has a large military base in the country and serves as a mediator for the disputes in the region. It’s also an important location for the U.S. as airbase launches strike against ISIS and Syria from the location.
The allegations against Qatar from the Saudis are suspect. Over the weekend British officials demanded the publishing of a “sensitive” government report that some think will reveal the Saudis’ role in funding terror groups and propaganda.
“There are going to be implications for people, for travelers, for business people. More than that, it brings the geopolitical risks into perspective,” said Tarek Fadlallah, the chief executive officer of Nomura Asset Management Middle East. “Since this is an unprecedented move, it is very difficult to see how it plays out.”
The move comes mere weeks after President Donald Trump left the country. Neither Qatar nor Saudi Arabia are listed under Trump’s travel ban.