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Gulf Crisis Leaves Allies in Difficult Spot: Experts

Written by Staff

The unprecedented crisis between Qatar and four of its Gulf neighbours including Saudi Arabia is causing a conflict of loyalties for a number of countries which have good relations with both sides.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Egypt and the Maldives on Monday broke off diplomatic and trade relations with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

AFP asked Denis Bauchard, an expert at the French Institute of International Relations (IRFI) and Gulf analyst Kristian Ulrichsen with the Baker Institute at Rice University in Houston, for their thoughts on the crisis.

Why the sudden crisis?

“Relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have always been bad in recent years, because of the Qatari TV station Al Jazeera, because of Doha’s support for the Arab Spring (uprisings) and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Bauchard.

“But this crisis is specific, because it is the fallout from the triumphalist trip two weeks ago by Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia. The US president mixed together (jihadist groups) Daesh (another term for Islamic State), Al-Qaeda and Iran, and he virtually called for regime change in Tehran, marking a brutal change with the Obama years.

“This speech was made in front of some 50 top officials of Muslim countries, a number of whom were annoyed and had the impression a little bit that they had been kidnapped. Particularly Qatar, but also Oman, Kuwait, which are not necessarily in agreement with this very strong approach towards Iran.

“Lebanon and Iraq, which have close ties with Tehran, but also Algeria or a Muslim country like Pakistan which has a large Shiite minority, are also in complete disagreement with this strategy.”

Why the cautious reactions?

“The breakdown of ties with Doha was doubtless an initiative by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking reconciliation with Washington. But this decision has apparently been taken without the assent of the United States,” said Bauchard.

“All this puts everyone in a difficult position, including the United States, because Qatar hosts the biggest American air base in the region. The general attitude is going to be to avoid taking sides in the quarrel and to urge everyone to resolve their differences calmly.”

What is the fallout for football?

The diplomatic crisis sweeping the Gulf could invigorate a campaign by critics of Qatar to strip Doha of the 2022 World Cup.

Ulrichsen said Qatar’s neighbours were among those to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on the grounds that Doha supported extremist groups “that aim to destabilise the region”.

One of the areas that could feel the impact is Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup, football’s biggest tournament, in five years’ time.

“This is a massive escalation in pressure on Qatar,” she said.

“I think it will really have an impact if it lasts any time.”

Since being controversially chosen by FIFA in 2010 as the host, Qatar has maintained that it is a politically secure nation despite its location in a volatile region.

Doha has also emphasised that the tournament serves the entire Gulf, and not just the tiny gas-rich emirate.

Original Article