Seven countries severed ties with Qatar on Monday. Not only did Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen, Libya and the Maldives suspend diplomatic relations with the Gulf state, they also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. They also ordered their citizens to leave Qatar.
The move comes on the heels of President Donald Trump’s visit to the region, and it marks a renewal of a years-long effort by Arab states to isolate Qatar, who they accused of destabilizing the region and backing terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Qatar denies these claims.
“The Egyptian government and the Saudi Arabian government, and now other countries allied with them, have been upset at Qatar for many years now primarily because of Al Jazeera,” says Sahar Aziz, a professor of law at Texas A&M University School of Law who specializes in national security and counterterrorism.
Aziz says the state-funded Doha-based news network provides critical coverage of Arab countries, particularly their human rights violations.
“They have attempted multiple times to get [Al Jazeera] to stop doing so, and Qatar has effectively refused,” she says.
The Arab states have also been at odds with Qatar over its support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Many Brotherhood members sought refuge in Qatar following the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Brotherhood.
“Egypt is livid that Qatar is giving the Muslim Brotherhood a place to be safe and also to set up a base to launch opposition propaganda,” Aziz says. “Qatar has refused to arrest them, extradite them or prohibit them from entering the country.”
Aziz says there was a brief diplomatic break in 2014 over Qatar’s backing of Morsi – which led Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain to recall their ambassadors from Qatar – but that it was unsuccessful in getting Al Jazeera to stop its coverage and for Qatar to stop allowing entry to Brotherhood members.
Aziz says the new coordinated effort was likely spurred by Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia as his first foreign trip.
“They feel emboldened that Trump has now supported these regimes and so they are doing something they’ve wanted to do for many years, which is to severely punish Qatar by cutting off land access, which is going to create a food insecurity crisis for Qatar,” she says.
Qatar imports nearly all of its food, 40 percent of which comes from Saudi Arabia.
Qatar is also home to the Al Udeid Air Base, where the U.S. military’s central command, and 10,000 U.S. troops are headquartered.
Aziz says that while the U.S. has not explicitly endorsed this particular move, Trump made it clear that he backs Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism efforts in the region.
“They are using this as a way to pressure Qatar, probably hoping that Qatar will give them what they want and then relations will be normalized,” she says. “I also think that they don’t believe Qatar has the interest in harming the U.S. military interests. In other words, right now the only card that Qatar has to play is this military base.”
The move will likely have major implications in oil markets, as Qatar is the biggest producer of liquefied natural gas in the Gulf.
Aziz says the stock market in Qatar has already dropped.
“To the extent that the Texas oil and gas market is connected to Qatar’s, and the Middle East in general, you are probably going to see an increase in energy prices,” Aziz says.
Written by Molly Smith.