Accusations and counter-accusations stir up the Gulf
The escalating tensions between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbor the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took a new twist with an exchange of mutual accusations of airspace violations and Abu Dhabi’s alleged detention of a Qatari sheikh, a close relative of that country’s emir.
The rift in the Sunni Muslim world erupted last June when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE severed relations with Doha, ostensibly over of its support for terrorism and close ties to Iran. They also demanded that Qatar shut down the Al Jazeera news network and cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, Qatar has refused to bow to the pressure, instead accusing its regional neighbors of enforcing a “siege” by means of severe restrictions spanning land, sea and air.
The confrontation intensified this week when Sheikh Abdullah bin Ali al-Thani, a member of the Qatari ruling family, released a YouTube video claiming that he was being “held” in Abu Dhabi by the Emirate’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. While Sheikh al-Thani left the UAE for Kuwait on Tuesday, his brother told Al Jazeera that his sibling’s health had deteriorated due to exhaustion and the pressure he was subjected to by UAE authorities.
The development, in turn, comes against the backdrop of Qatar’s claims this week that UAE warplanes violated its airspace, as well as on December 21 and January 3. Thereafter, UAE state media reported that two of its civilian airliners, bound for Bahrain, were intercepted by Qatar.
Qasem Qaseer, a Lebanese political analyst, explained that while Qatar and the Emirates are historical rivals, their power struggle is growing. “The main split is over the big role that Qatar has been playing in the Arab-Islamic world over the past decade,” he told The Media Line, primarily in reference to Doha’s support for the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, “a stance that Saudi Arabia and its allies don’t, and will not accept.
In this respect, contrary to the prevailing narrative Iran is not the main factor in the conflict, according to Qaseer. “The UAE still maintains very strong economic ties with Iran despite the hostility between Tehran and Riyadh. They are simply fighting over the issues of Muslim Brotherhood and power.”
Saleh Ghareeb, a Qatari writer and activist, believes that the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are trying to provoke Qatar in any way possible. “Abu Dhabi hosted Sheikh Abdullah against his will, constituting a blatant assault,” he stressed to The Media Line. “Similarly, last year Saudi Arabia prevented the Qatari chess team from participating in an international chess championship in the kingdom.”
Ghareeb also pointed out that sanctions placed on Qatar by other Gulf countries preclude Qatari planes from entering their airspaces.
Khaled Bin Ali, a Saudi political analyst, told The Media Line that if the Qatari airspace violations are in fact true they represent a desperate bid by Doha to attract attention. “Qatar has realized that lately no country is trying to reconcile its differences with major Sunni adversaries. Accordingly” he concluded, “they are creating scenes and crises to grab attention like a hopeless person.”