Qatar, a small middle eastern nation on the coast of the Persian Gulf, faced unprecedented sanctions and a diplomatic break with its neighbours this week because of allegations that Qatar has destabilized the region. Led by Saudi Arabia; Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) accused Qatar of funding and supporting terrorist groups. Because of these allegations, the above states, four of the six Gulf Cooperation Council members, have closed airspace, halted imports, closed land borders, and expelled Qatari expatriates. Qatar has denied all allegations and protested the economic and diplomatic sanctions.
While the recent crisis may seem sudden, it is founded on decades of tensions between Qatar and her neighbours. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE have Sunni Muslim leaders and their power is centred on eliminating threats to their rule – namely Iran and Islamic Jihad. Qatar is the only absolute monarchy among the states, and she shares the offshore South Pars/North Dome field with Iran, the world’s largest natural gas field, and the main source of Qatar’s wealth.
There can be no doubt that Qatar has and continues to support political Islamic groups. The ruling family of Qatar has supported the Muslim Brotherhood and has supported political Islamists in Libya, Egypt, Syria. There have been cases of Qatar’s support for Palestinian Hamas factions in Gaza and Syria. In addition, BBC News’s Frank Gardner reports: “there is no denying though, that Qatar has had connections to the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front in Syria.”
An additional factor in this complicated story is Qatar’s state-owned media conglomerate, Al-Jazeera. While the Emir of Qatar and many in the western world see’s Al-Jazeera’s reporting both online and on television as a reputable and important news source in the Middle East, that sentiment is not shared by the surrounding states who continually feel as though the network supports dissent and touches upon too many sensitive issues. Ironically, Al-Jazeera continues to avoid criticizing Qatar and its Gulf Allies, though tensions still persist.
Though Qatar has faced sanctions and blockades before, it is not clear if the current situation will be resolved as others before it. While Kuwait and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members are attempting to mediate the crisis, it is not clear where Qatar fits into the GCC whose unity is rooted in members common objectives and identities. With its large gas stores and wealth, Qatar has often defied its neighbours in recent years, propped up by additional ties with neighbours like Iran and the United States who has 10,000 troops on an air base outside of Doha.
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