JEDDAH: A diplomatic crisis of unprecedented scale erupted in the Gulf and wider region Monday, as eight governments dramatically cut ties with Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups.
Residents of Qatar were seen “panic buying” and some supermarket shelves stood empty after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, the UAE and other countries announced they would withdraw diplomatic staff from Qatar.
The move saw Qatar’s only land border closed and air and sea links cut by the four Arab countries. As well as closing all transport links with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain also gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave.
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.
Egypt accused Qatar of supporting “terrorist” organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s state news agency reported.
The UAE gave diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, citing Qatari “support, funding and embrace of terrorist, extremist and sectarian organizations,” according to the state news agency WAM.
Four other governments also moved to sever ties with Qatar, namely Yemen’s internationally recognized government, Libya’s eastern-based government, the Maldives and Mauritius.
Qatar on Monday criticized the decisions of its neighbors to cut ties, saying the move was “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.
But the move had an immediate impact on Qatar, with a plunge in its stock market and several airlines declaring suspension of all Qatar-bound flights. These include Saudi Arabian Airlines, locally known as Saudia, and the UAE carriers Emirates, Etihad, Flydubai and Air Arabia.
Qatar Airways, too, said on its official website that it had suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia.
Diplomatic tensions were already at a high 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 other sensitive topics.
Its Gulf Arab neighbors responded by blocking Qatari-based media, including the Doha-based satellite news network Al-Jazeera.
— With input from AP, Reuters