Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Qatar declines tit-for-tat diplomatic withdrawals amid GCC row.

Following three GCC countries’ decision to withdraw their top diplomats from Doha today, the Qatar government has said it will not recall its ambassadors from the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the dramatic move.
In a joint statement, the three countries said Qatar was not keeping its promise to adhere to a Gulf-wide security pact signed last November, which pledged non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. 
This afternoon, Qatar’s Cabinet expressed “surprise and regret” at the public rebuke, which is the biggest diplomatic challenge Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has faced since becoming Emir last summer.
While symbolically embarrassing, analysts say the decision is of little practical significance. The key question is whether this move is simply a show of disapproval for Qatar’s foreign policy, or a signal of intensifying tensions that could lead to, for example, Saudi Arabia tightening its land border or closing its airspace. 
“If this is part of an escalation, then it is very concerning. If it is just for demonstrative effect, then it doesn’t really matter,” said David Roberts, a lecturer at King’s College London and author of the soon-to-be released book, Qatar: Securing the Global Ambitions of a City-state. 
So far, on the ground in Doha, there hasn’t been much impact. The UAE embassy told Doha News that it’s been without an ambassador since December.
Bahrain’s top diplomat in Qatar flew home Tuesday for “personal reasons,” a spokesperson said. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador was still in the country on Wednesday.
This sort of diplomatic row isn’t without repercussions. In the mid-2000s, Qatar went several years without a permanent ambassador from KSA in Doha, Roberts said.
He added that the next move is likely to come from Kuwait, which – like Oman – did not withdraw its ambassadors. Both have a history of acting independently from Riyadh, Roberts said. 
In a statement published Wednesday afternoon, Kuwait’s parliamentary speaker said he hoped Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah would “continue his efforts at ironing out the existing differences among members of the GCC.”
He also expressed optimism that the diplomatic dispute was nothing more “than a passing summer cloud.”
Meanwhile, Oman’s official news agency did not make any mention of the day’s events.
The governments of the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia did not provide specific reasons for withdrawing their ambassadors beyond saying in a joint statement this morning that the measure was necessary “to protect their security and stability.”
That reason was contested by Qatar’s Cabinet in its official response:
“This has nothing to do with the interests, security and stability of GCC peoples, but rather a difference in positions on issues out of the (GCC).” 
Many interpret today’s row to be the result of the countries’ different positions on Egypt. Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted president Mohamed Mursi have put it offside with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both of which support the current regime.
A related irritant in GCC relations has been local religious scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi, who has harshly criticized Egypt’s military-backed government. 
Last month, the UAE summoned Qatar’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi to deliver “an official protest memorandum” over remarks Al Qaradawi made. During a broadcast January sermon, the scholar criticized the UAE’s support for the current Egyptian government.
Speaking to Al Jazeera English, Nasser Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Qatar’s former ambassador to the US and the United Nations, said:
“These three countries – Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain – want to keep the Arab world in their hold. They want them to stay weak (and) controlled by dictators.
These countries are supporting a coup d’etat, with thousands of Egyptians being killed in front of the whole world and they want Qatar to support such policies.”

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