Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamists. The three countries released a joint statement that all but accused Qatar of engaging in espionage against them by supporting the Brotherhood and providing a media platform for its allies. The statement said they had withdrawn their envoys “to protect their security” because Qatar failed to fulfill vows “to refrain from supporting organizations or individuals who threaten the security and stability of the gulf states, through direct security work or through political influence.”
Tensions between the country and neighboring Persian Gulf monarchies has been simmering for some time. Qatar’s strategy of aligning with moderate Islamists amid the Arab Spring revolts in the hope of extending its influence has angered many of its neighbors. Qatar is a tiny, petroleum-rich peninsula that has used its huge wealth and Al Jazeera, which it owns, as instruments of regional power. The other gulf monarchies have viewed popular demands for democracy and political Islam as dual threats to their power.
In recent years, Qatar has been emboldened by the presence of a major American military base on its soil, which assured its own security. Tiny Qatar has swaggered around like a heavyweight as it negotiated a peace deal in Lebanon, supported Palestinian militants in Gaza, shipped weapons to rebels in Libya and Syria, and gave refuge to exiled leaders of Egypt’s Brotherhood. Michael Stephens, a researcher for the London-based Royal United Services Institute in Doha, Qatar’s capital, said, “The other gulf states see Qatar as this extremely rich child that has got all this money and all these big toys and wants to play but doesn’t know how to do it.”
Qatar also views Iran as a manageable concern, while Saudi Arabia sees it as an existential danger. Washington has had to work to reassure nervous Persian Gulf governments that American negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program will not undermine gulf security. Mr. Stephens said, “The gulf squabbling really does not help.” Iran, he said, is “the only one who wins from this.”
In recent months, the Islamists’ gains around the region have been rolled back. The military has taken over in Egypt and declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The governing party in Turkey has been shaken by challenges to its rule. Add to that the military gains by the government in Syria and the chaos in Libya and the picture is looking bleak for the Islamist organizations.