Beirut: Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar to lodge a formal protest at what officials in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Manama concluded were gross interferences in regional security affairs.
In an unprecedented move, the three Arab Gulf states issued a detailed and long joint statement that took their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ally to the woodshed, the first such public development since the regional alliance was established in 1981. The rare document covered every imaginable detail insisting that Doha abide by the GCC Charter, and various security agreements duly signed by all member-states.
A GCC foreign ministers’ meeting in Riyadh on Tuesday was apparently “stormy” with the Qatari Foreign Minister, Shaikh Khalid Bin Mohammad Al Attiyah, reluctant to commit his state to the November 23, 2013, accord duly signed by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia and Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamid Al Thani of Qatar in the presence of Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, the Emir of the State of Kuwait.
That agreement, which was duly endorsed by all GCC leaders a month later at their annual Summit in Kuwait, covered three specific items: to distance all GCC States from the Muslim Brotherhood and its intrusive policies throughout the Arab World, to place strict broadcast restrictions on the Egyptian cleric, Shaikh Yousuf Al Qaradawi, who spread controversial views from his Doha perch, and severely restrict the movement of Iranian operatives within the GCC.
Doha signed this accord more than three months later, yet no actions were apparently taken to implement its clauses.
In fact, after epochal developments brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt, Qatar extended blanket support to President Mohammad Mursi, expressed through an $8 billion (Dh29.4 billion) aid package.
Remarkably, and although GCC States failed to persuade Doha to stop its “support for anyone who threatens the security and stability of GCC countries,” the Egyptian Central Bank returned $2 billion in September 2013. Moreover, and to counter Qatar’s financial aid, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE promised $15 billion in fresh aid for Egypt, to stabilise Cairo’s financial situation.
Still, tensions within the GCC worsened after Abu Dhabi issued a letter of protest in response to criticism by the Doha-based Egyptian cleric, Shaikh Al Qaradawi, who maintained close ties with senior Qatari officials and who seldom missed an opportunity to express his support for the Brotherhood. While not specifically included in the joint statement, the UAE repeatedly chastised Qatar in recent months over comments by Al Qaradawi, who used his Al Jazeera television network pulpit to harshly criticise Egypt’s military regime, which is strongly backed by most GCC States.
What was even more problematic were unconfirmed reports that Qatar facilitated the movement of unnamed Middle Eastern citizens — presumed to be Iranians — to circulate within the GCC. According to well-placed sources, this was the main cause of disagreement at the stormy GCC Tuesday evening meeting that led to the withdrawal of the three diplomats.