Dubai: Bahrain and Egypt on Thursday apparently joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in blocking access to websites run by the pan-Arab satellite network Al Jazeera, part of a growing regional dispute with Qatar after alleged remarks by Qatari Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani upset Gulf states.
During a graduation ceremony of national service recruits on Tuesday Al Thani reportedly said Qatar was facing an “unjust” campaign against it that coincided with the visit by US President Donald Trump to the region.
“The motives of the campaign are well-known and we will pursue the countries and organisations behind them in order to protect Qatar’s leading role regionally and internationally,” Shaikh Tamim said.
“We deplore the accusation against us that we support terrorism. The real danger is the behaviour of some governments that caused terrorism by adopting an extremist version of Islam that does not reflect its tolerance,” the emir was quoted as saying by the Qatar News Agency (QNA).
He also defended Qatar’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah and said it was “unwise” to escalate tensions with Iran.
Shaikh Tamim called on “the brothers” in Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain to end their continuous anti-Qatar campaigns.
However, Qatar later said that the statements attributed to Shaikh Tamim were false and the Qatar News Agency (QNA) was hacked.
It said an investigation would be launched into the security breach. Amid Qatar’s denials, Saudi-owned satellite television networks immediately began airing repeated stories about the disputed comments. By early Wednesday morning, internet users in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could not access websites run by Al Jazeera, based in the Qatari capital, Doha.
On Thursday morning, Bahrain and Egypt also apparently had blocked Al Jazeera websites, though authorities did not immediately acknowledge it. Egypt also blocked other websites as well, including that of Mada Masr, a popular online news outlet known for its investigative reports on the Egyptian government.
Al Jazeera said on Wednesday it was “studying the reports our channels and digital platforms have been blocked in certain countries in the region.” It declined to comment further.
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 neighbours over its support of Islamists. The chief worry among them is the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political group outlawed by both Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia fell out with Qatar over its backing of then-Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, a Brotherhood member.
In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar over the rift.
Eight months later, they returned their ambassadors as Qatar forced some Brotherhood members to leave the country and quieted others.
In the time since, Qatar repeatedly and strongly denied it funds extremist groups.
However, it remains a key financial patron of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and has been the home of exiled Hamas official Khalid Mashaal since 2012.
Western officials also have accused Qatar of allowing or even encouraging funding of extremists like Al Qaida’s branch in Syria, once known as Al Nusra Front.