Qatar in crisis as more countries sever ties

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The Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the final session of the South American-Arab Countries summit, in Riyadh November 11, 2015. (REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo)
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Saudi King Salman (C) walks with the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, during a welcoming ceremony upon Hamad al-Thani's arrival to attend the Summit of South American-Arab Countries, in Riyadh November 10, 2015. (Reuters)
Updated 06 June 2017
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Qatar in crisis as more countries sever ties

JEDDAH: Several Arab and Islamic countries cut diplomatic ties with Qatar on Monday over Doha’s alleged support for extremist groups.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were the first to announce they would withdraw their diplomatic staff from Qatar and announced plans to cut air and sea traffic to the peninsular country.
In a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), Saudi Arabia said Qatari troops would be pulled from the ongoing war in Yemen. Qatar is part of the Arab Coalition backing the UN-recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in its war with Iran-backed Houthis and their allies.
SPA said Saudi Arabia has taken this “crucial action as a result of serious violations by the authorities in Doha, privately and publicly, over the past years to encourage dissent and sectarianism in the Kingdom.”
Riyadh accused Qatar of “backing terrorist groups in the province of Qatif, Saudi Arabia, and in the Kingdom of Bahrain and the financing and the adoption of harboring extremists who seek to strike the stability and unity of the nation at home and abroad.”
It specifically mentioned Qatar’s alleged support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Daesh extremists.
Riyadh also accused Qatari media of trying to undermine the Saudi-led coalition in its fight against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.
Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah "expressed his wish" that Qatari ruler "work on easing tensions and refrain from taking any decision that might cause escalation", the Kuwait state news agency Kuna said, as Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, an adviser to the Saudi king, arrived in Kuwait.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.
Egypt announced the closure of its airspace and seaports to all Qatari transportation to protect its national security, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Egypt accused Qatar of supporting "terrorist" organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's state news agency reported.
The United Arab Emirates accused its Gulf Arab neighbor of supporting extremism and undermining regional stability, state news agency WAM reported.
The Emirates cut ties and gave diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing their "support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organizations," WAM said.
Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Yemen's internationally recognised government, which also severed ties with Qatar, accused it of working with its enemies in the Iran-aligned Houthi movement, state news agency Saba reported.
"Qatar's practices of dealing with the (Houthi) coup militas and supporting extremist groups became clear," the government said in a statement.
Libya’s eastern-based government has followed regional allies in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, its foreign minister, Mohamed Dayri, said on Monday.
The Maldives also followed suit in severing diplomatic ties with Qatar. "The Maldives took the decision because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism," the government of the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago nation said in a statement.
Qatar denounces 'unjustified' move
Qatar on Monday criticised the decisions of three Gulf states to sever ties with it, saying they were “unjustified” and aimed to put Doha under political “guardianship.”
“The measures are unjustified and are based on false and baseless claims,” the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement, referring to the unprecedented steps taken by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Crisis not to impact fight against terrorism
Speaking in Sydney, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he did not expect the announcement to have "any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism."
He encouraged Qatar and its neighbours to "sit down together", adding that Washington was ready for "any role that we can play" in helping to overcome divisions.
Amid the rift, Iran blamed the regional crisis on the US President’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.
Turkey calls for dialogue
Turkey called for dialogue and said it was ready to help defuse the row between Qatar and Arab nations that accuse Doha of supporting extremism.
“It’s a development that really saddened all of us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters. “There could be problems between the countries but dialogue must prevail in all circumstances,” he said.
Iran blames US
The head of Iran’s parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy Alaeddin Boroujerdi says Washington has always made it a policy to establish a rift among Muslim countries. He says: “Intervention of foreign countries, especially the United States, cannot be the solution to regional problems.”
Russia hopes for 'stability and peace'
Commenting on the decision by a number of Arab and Islamic nations, the Kremlin said on Monday that it is in Russia’s interest to have a “stable and peaceful” situation in the Gulf.
Crisis not to impact India
India’s Foreign Affairs Minister said that India will not be impacted by some Gulf countries cutting off diplomatic ties with Qatar.
“There is no challenge arising out of this for us. This is an internal matter of GCC (Gulf Coordination Council). Our only concern is about Indians there. We are trying to find out if any Indians are stuck there,” Sushma Swarai told reporters.
Qatar-bound flights halted
Meanwhile, several airlines have declared suspension of all Qatar-bound flights starting from Tuesday morning until further notice.
Saudi Arabian Airlines, locally known as Saudia, UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, flydubai and Air Arabia all announced  they would suspend flights to Doha amid the diplomatic rift. Egypt later announced it will suspend air links with Qatar as well.
Qatar Airways, too, said on its official website that it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.
The decision comes after Qatar alleged in late May that hackers took over the site of its state-run news agency and published what it called fake comments made by the ruling emir about Iran and Israel. Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded by blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.

– With input from AP and Reuters


From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi with his third wife Farah and their son Reza (left). Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (right). (AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019
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From tourism to terrorism: How the revolution changed Iran

  • Forty years ago on Wednesday, the shah went into exile and less than a month later, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini assumed power
  • His departure paved the way for the establishment of an Islamic republic hostile to Arab Gulf states

DUBAI: Forty years ago today, Iran’s then-shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, fled the country after a 37-year reign, in the first stage of a revolution that would replace 2,500 years of monarchy with an Islamic republic.

Prior to the revolution, Iran very much resembled Western countries, with a flourishing economy and tourists flocking to the country for its breath-taking landscapes, beaches and various activities, including hiking and skiing. 

The shah’s departure, prompted by mass protests, paved the way for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to return from exile in France, assuming power on Feb. 11, 1979. 

It was “a genuine social revolution against tyranny, domestic and foreign — the first represented by the shah and the second by… the US,” said Dr. Albadr Al-Shateri, politics professor at the National Defence College in Abu Dhabi.

“The revolution went awry when religious leaders dominated the government, imposed its version of Islam and eliminated their partners in the revolution, including Iranian nationalists.”

Not long after Khomeini took over, the world got a taste of the new regime. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage on Nov. 4, 1979, and were held for 444 days, after a group of Iranian students who supported the revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran. 

The Iran-Iraq war, which began in 1980 and lasted for eight years, contributed to the deterioration of Iran’s situation. 

“Fear of the new regime’s attempt to export the revolution to a Shiite-majority neighbor led Iraq to initiate the war,” Al-Shateri said. 

“However, Iran’s insistence on continuing the war until the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein exacted a heavy cost on both countries in human and economic terms,” he added. 

“Iran had legitimate grievances against the US, but the way it tried to redress these gripes was counterproductive.”

The shah was considered one of the best customers of the US defense industry. But his Western-inspired reforms sparked turbulent social change that aggravated the clergy, while his consolidation of power and the secret police gave him the reputation of a dictator.

Opposition to his reign and corruption among Tehran’s elite created an influential alliance of radical Islamists. 

Although Pahlavi tried to modernize Iran, driving up oil prices in the early 1970s and implementing reforms in education and health care, he became alienated among Iranians and angered the conservative clergy, who helped drive his exile. 

“Iran changed significantly from before the revolution to after, from a more civil, open and decent Iran to a closed, aggressive and sectarian one,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, former chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences. 

“Post-1979 Iran is deeply sectarian, and is not only responsible for sharpening the Sunni-Shiite divide, but also wholly responsible for politicizing and militarizing it,” he added.

Iran “has funded and armed Shiite militias, and has done everything possible to strengthen them so they can challenge the nation-state, Lebanon being a clear example.” 

Post-1979 Iran does not “play by the rules of the game,” Abdulla added. “It became radical, revolutionary and sectarian, and was about to become nuclear, which is deeply destabilizing.”

He said: “Gulf states have lived with Iran for thousands of years, and they knew how to deal with it all along. They had the best possible neighborly relationship, but it has always been a difficult Iran, whether under the shah or Khomeini.”

Abdulla added: “We’ve never seen an Iran that has become the number-one terrorist country in the world except in the last 40 years.”

Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Police and Government at George Mason University in the US, said: “Unlike the shah’s Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to export its revolution to other Muslim countries, especially the Arab Gulf ones.” He added: “Still, it must be remembered that the shah’s Iran was also fairly aggressive. It seized Abu Musa and the Tunbs (islands) right when the British were leaving the Trucial States and the UAE was being formed. It had also laid claim to Bahrain.” 

Furthermore, while the shah’s troops helped defend Oman against a South Yemeni-backed Marxist insurgency in the 1970s, Katz said the presence of those Iranian troops in Oman was unsettling to Saudi Arabia in particular. 

“The shah had also got the best of Iraq in their border rivalry — something that Saddam Hussein sought to reverse after the Iranian revolution,” he added. 

Before the revolution, the shah’s Iran often behaved “aggressively toward its Arab neighbors, but its close cooperation with the US against the Soviet Union, which Iran bordered and the Gulf Arab states didn’t, meant that Washington wasn’t willing to act against the shah for doing so,” Katz said. By contrast, the rise of an anti-American government after the revolution led to the US working with Arab Gulf states against Iran. 

“Because the Islamic Republic behaved in such a hostile manner, both toward the Gulf Arabs as well as the US, the 1979 revolution led to the isolation and containment of Iran for many years,” Katz said. 

“Although it may seem counterintuitive, Iran may have posed a far greater problem for the Gulf Arabs if the… revolution hadn’t taken place, because if it hadn’t and Western investment in Iran continued or even grew, there would’ve been a tendency for Tehran to assert — and the US to value — an Iranian effort to be the leader in the Gulf in collaboration with the US.”