Tuesday, June 6, 2017

2017 Qatar Diplomatic Crisis

Saudi Arabia and other countries have criticized Al-Jazeera, Qatar's relations with Iran and accused Qatar of funding terrorist organizations. Qatar denied that it supports terrorism. Qatar has also assisted the US in the War on Terror and military intervention against ISIL.

Saudi Arabia and some other Persian Gulf countries, including Bahrain and the UAE, restrained relations by imposing trade and travel bans. Other Arab countries, including Egypt, followed suit. Jordan downgraded its relationship with Qatar. US President Donald Trump criticized Qatar, sided with Saudi Arabia, and took credit for the diplomatic crisis.

Turkey, Russia and Iran have called for the crisis to be resolved through dialogue.

Background

Qatar has had differences with other Arab governments on a number of issues: it broadcasts Al Jazeera; it is accused of maintaining good relations with Iran; and it has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. Qatar is also an American ally, hosting the largest American base in the Middle East.

The countries withdrawing diplomatic relations accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism, of interfering with their internal affairs and of maintaining relations with Iran. Qatar denies allegations that it supported terrorism, and pointed out that it has been contributing to the U.S.-led fight against ISIL. Qatar allegedly defended its ties with Iran, saying "Tehran carries influence which cannot be ignored". However, Qatari officials have claimed that this statement and others were falsified in a May 2017 hack of the Qatar News Agency. Qatar-based Al Jazeera claims the dispute stems from this hacking. Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qataris. US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies. The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident.

In June 2017, several countries cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar. Countries that cut ties included Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen (Hadi-led government), United Arab Emirates and the Maldives. Libya's eastern-based government also cut ties.

Issues of Contention

Qatar maintains relatively good relations with Iran. Qatar and Iran share ownership of South Pars / North Dome Gas-Condensate field, by far the world's largest natural gas field, with significant geostrategic influence. Qatar also used its contacts to help negotiate peaceful exchanges of hostages or safe evacuation of civilians from areas affected by the Syrian Civil War. However, Qatar also sent its forces to fight against alleged Iranian-backed militias in the current Yemeni Civil War and has supported rebels fighting the Iranian-allied government of Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.

Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. By contrast, Saudi Arabia adheres to Wahhabism, which analysts see as ideologically different from the Brotherhood. Some Saudis have accused Qatar of betraying "the true Salafi path". Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat, as it ideologically opposes hereditary rule. The government of Egypt has long viewed the Muslim Brotherhood as "enemy number one". In 2011, during the Arab Spring, Qatar supported the Egyptian protesters agitating for change, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. By contrast, Saudi Arabia supported Hosni Mubarak and currently supports Abdel Fattah el-Sisi since the 2013 Egyptian coup d'├ętat.

Qatar has been accused of sponsoring terrorism. Some countries have faulted Qatar for funding rebel groups in Syria, including al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusra Front, although the Saudis have done the same. On June 6th 2017, The US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done.

Qatar has hosted officials from the Afghan Taliban and Hamas. Qatar defends this move by saying it is trying to act as an intermediary in regional conflicts. For example, Qatar hosted talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in 2016. Critics, however, see Qatar as supporting these groups.

Qatar hosts the largest American base in the Middle East, the Al Udeid Air Base, which has been used by the United States in its campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

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