World

Fissure opens in Arab world as Saudi Arabia, UAE and more sever ties with Qatar

Gulf states cut diplomatic ties with Qatar

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar yesterday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.

Iran - long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move - blamed US President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.

Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar's support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.

The coordinated move, with Yemen and Libya's eastern-based government joining in later, created a dramatic rift among the Arab nations, many of which are in OPEC.

Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups - some backed by regional arch-rival Iran - and broadcasting their ideology, an apparent reference to Qatar's influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera.

"(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly," Saudi state news agency SPA said.

It accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi'ite Muslim-populated eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.

DENIAL

Qatar said it was facing a campaign aimed at weakening it, denying it was interfering in the affairs of other countries.

“The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications.”Qatari foreign ministry

"The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications," the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iran saw America pulling the strings.

"What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance," Mr Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted in a reference to Mr Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia.

Mr Trump and other US officials participated in a traditional sword dance during the trip, in which he called on Muslim countries to stand united against Islamist extremists and singled out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Sydney yesterday that the spat would not affect the fight against Islamist militants and that Washington has encouraged its Gulf allies to resolve their differences.

A split between Qatar and its closest allies can have repercussions around the Middle East, where Gulf states have used their financial and political power to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The economic fallout loomed immediately, as Abu Dhabi's state-owned Etihad Airways, Dubai's Emirates Airline and budget carrier Flydubai said they would suspend all flights to and from Doha, the Qatari capital, from Tuesday morning until further notice.

Qatar Airways said on its official website it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.

Qatar's stock market index sank 7.5 per cent, with some of the market's blue chips hardest hit.

The measures are more severe than during a previous eight-month rift in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, again alleging Qatari support for militant groups. At that time, travel links were maintained and Qataris were not expelled.

The diplomatic broadside threatens the international prestige of Qatar, which hosts a large US military base and is set to host the 2022 World Cup.

It has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region's many disputes.

Mr Kristian Ulrichsen, a Gulf expert at the US-based Baker Institute, said if Qatar's land borders and air space were closed for any length of time, "it would wreak havoc on the timeline and delivery" of the World Cup.

"It seems that the Saudis and Emiratis feel emboldened by the alignment of their regional interests - towards Iran and Islamism - with the Trump administration," Mr Ulrichsen said.

terrorismQatarSaudi Arabia