Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties and all land sea and air contacts with Qatar, accusing the Persian Gulf country of supporting terrorism and interfering in their internal affairs.
Riyadh took the lead on Monday to sever relations and other countries fell in line after an official source said the kingdom “urges all brotherly countries and companies to do the same.”
A Saudi official cited by SPA said the country decided to “sever diplomatic and consular ties with Qatar, and to close all land, sea and aviation ports” in order to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.”
The “decisive” measure, the Saudi statement said, was due to “gross violations committed by authorities in Qatar over the past years.”
The United Arab Emirates gave Qatari diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing their “support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organizations,” state news agency WAM reported.
Bahrain news agency said the tiny kingdom was cutting ties with Doha over its insistence on “shaking the security and stability of Bahrain and meddling in its affairs.”
Egypt accused Qatar of supporting “terrorist” organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood which it has been cracking down on since the 2013 coup against the country’s first ever democratically-elected leader, Mohamed Morsi.
Meanwhile, a Saudi “coalition” waging a war in Yemen said it was ending Qatar’s membership. The measure, it said, was due to Doha’s “practices that strengthen terrorism, and its support to organizations in Yemen, including al-Qaeda and Daesh, as well as dealing with the rebel militias.”
Qatar regretted the decision, saying “the measures are unjustified and are based on claims and allegations that have no basis in fact.” Doha-based Al Jazeera TV quoted Foreign Ministry as saying that the decisions would “not affect the normal lives of citizens and residents.”
Pakistan, another member of the “coalition” which has recently tried to distance itself from the Saudi group’s anti-Iran agenda, made it clear that the country had no plans to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
The crisis follows US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region last month, marked by the signing of a record $110-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the visit was aimed at getting Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations in the region to stand in “unity” with Israel and confront Iran.
After Trump’s visit, tensions escalated between Riyadh and Doha because of an article in Qatar’s state-run news agency in which the emir was quoted as criticizing the US, Saudi Arabia, and their client states for attempting to stir up tensions with “Islamic power” Iran.
The Qatari government quickly deleted the comments, saying the state agency had been hacked but the official denial failed to stop the rift between the Persian Gulf Arab countries from widening.
Saudi media then viciously attacked Qatar, accusing it of having “betrayed” the other Arab countries particularly at a time when they had attempted to stage a show of “unity” against Iran in a much-publicized and extravagant series of events in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also blocked Qatari websites and broadcasters. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani later said the country was being targeted in a “hostile media campaign, which we will confront.”
Qatar, home to the forward headquarters of the US military’s Central Command and some 10,000 American troops, long has faced criticism from its Arab neighbors over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood which has another admirer in Turkey.
Western officials have also accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of Takfiri extremists like al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, once known as the Nusra Front. Saudi Arabia and the UAE similarly stand accused of supporting other Takfiri groups and the escalation exposes an underlying bitter rivalry among the neighbors for influence.
Former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh was quoted as saying that the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is rooted in “accumulated differences from the past even though both countries are followers of the Wahhabi school.”
Wahhabism is the radical ideology dominating Saudi Arabia, which is freely preached by government-backed clerics there and inspiring terrorist groups such as Daesh and al-Qaeda.
Recent reports have suggested Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were divided over their role in Yemen on which they have been waging a deadly war for more than two years now.
In a recent interview with Middle East Eye online news portal, Saudi-backed former Yemeni president Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi accused the UAE of acting “like an occupation power in Yemen rather than a force of liberation.”
Yemeni sources have revealed that the United Arab Emirates was trying to establish control over the strategic island of Socotra in the Arabian Sea, which Hadi had rented out to the country for nearly a century.
Tensions have taken a turn for worse under Saudi Arabia’s new rulers who have adopted an aggressive policy, waging a destructive war on Yemen, severing relations with Iran and assisting militants in Iraq and Syria to topple their governments.