Qatar vows to defy pressure as Saudi-led bloc hardens stance against Doha despite a flurry of diplomacy.
On Monday, June 5, most residents of Qatar were still fast asleep when neighbouring Bahrain announced it was cutting diplomatic ties with Doha, delivering the first of a series of coordinated diplomatic strikes that has left the region in disarray.
It happened at 5:50am local time, on the 10th day of Ramadan. Within 10 minutes, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's biggest power, had followed suit. The kingdom announced via state media that it was taking action to "protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism".
By 6:20am, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) had completed the troika. "It was bound to happen. It was something that was ready to explode," Anwar Gargash, UAE state foreign affairs minister, later told Reuters news agency.
At least three other countries, including Egypt, joined in later in the day. But Oman and Kuwait, two other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is also a member, stayed neutral.
Qatar strongly denied the allegations cited in the announcements justifying the moves against it, decrying a "campaign of lies that have reached the point of complete fabrication".
Despite mediation efforts led by Kuwait, the standoff continues five days into the dispute.
Here are some of the key points of the ongoing rift between Saudi and its allies, and Qatar.
Along with the severing of diplomatic ties, a Riyadh-led blockade was imposed against Doha. Saudi, which shares the only land border with Qatar, shut the crossing and halted transport of goods into its gas-rich neighbour. Saudi later offered to allow food to enter, but Qatar declined, insisting on full lift of siege.
Saudi, UAE and Bahrain also closed their airspace to flights from and to Qatar, forcing airlines to remove Doha from their list of destinations. The move stranded thousands of passengers and resulted in lost revenues to airlines caught up in the rift. The International Air Transport Association pleaded that air links be restored, but its request has so far been met with silence. Qataris were even barred from transiting through the UAE.
Qatari citizens were also ordered out of the three countries, while Saudi, UAE and Bahraini nationals were told to leave Qatar within two weeks.
Sea links were also cut. At the UAE's port of Fujairah, all vessels flying the Qatari flag, or destined for Qatar, were not allowed to go through.
Tankers carrying liquefied petroleum gas from Qatar also had to change course in the Gulf of Aden, according to reports. Another ship was also diverted from Suez Canal in Egypt.
Even as countries such as the UAE blocked Qatari exports like gas and aluminum, Qatar continues to let natural gas flowing to UAE, making it possible for Dubai and Abu Dhabi to keep meeting their energy needs.
Amid the crisis, analysts have estimated that the fallout could cost Gulf economies billions of dollars.
Turkey sending troops
As Saudi and its allies tightened the noose on Qatar, other countries in the region stepped in.
Turkey and Iran opened their airspace to more Qatar flights. Both countries also offered food shipments after a rush for items was reported in many Qatari grocery shops in the immediate aftermath of the rift. Iran said food shipment can reach Doha in 12 hours.
An estimated 40 percent of food items in Qatar are transported through Saudi Arabia. Qatar quickly said there was no need for panic-buying as supplies are adequate.
Following the threats made against Qatar, its close ally Turkey voted to to accelerate the deployment of troops to its base in the peninsula.
Reports said that the base, which was set up following a 2014 agreement, could accommodate as many as 5,000 Turkish troops.
Turkey, which also enjoys strong relations with Saudi, said it will work to help resolve the crisis peacefully.
While Ankara's move to deploy the soldiers is not anti-Saudi, it is clearly pro-Qatari, one analyst was quoted as saying.
|Some of Qatar's Gulf neighbours have demanded that it close down the Doha-based Al Jazeera media network [Reuters]|
As accusations heated up, Saudi signalled that it was escalating the row in the media sphere – first by shutting down the local office of the Doha-based Al Jazeera Media Network.
Days before the diplomatic spat boiled over, Al Jazeera's websites were already blocked in Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
"There was an unprecedented escalation from the [Gulf] mass media … but Qatar has not met this escalation with escalation," Qatar's Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told Al Jazeera in an interview.
There have also been reports of demands to shut down Al Jazeera altogether.
Reporters Without Borders said the broadcaster has become a "collateral victim of [the] diplomatic offensive against Qatar".
"Closing Al Jazeera's bureaux is a political decision that amounts to censoring this TV broadcaster," Alexandra El Khazen, the head of the group's Middle East desk, was quoted as saying.
Al Jazeera said the decision was "unjustified".
In addition to targeting news channels, UAE for instance, also blocked BeIn network, a Qatari-owned sports broadcaster.
In the first hours of the diplomatic scuffle, the United States weighed in, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying it is important that the GCC members remain "unified", adding that he does not think it would affect the fight against terrorism. The US maintains a military base in Qatar, its largest in the Middle East, with an estimated 10,000 troops.
Tillerson's assurances, however, were thrown in doubt after US President Donald Trump wrote a post on social media referencing Qatar when he said leaders of the Middle East had stated that they "would take a hard line on funding extremism". He later made a phone call to Qatar's leader to offer help in resolving the crisis.
Instead of diffusing the already heated situation, Trump's tweets only led to more discord.
Hours later, Jordan downgraded its relationship with Qatar and revoked the license of Al Jazeera to operate there. Mauritania also broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar, followed later by Senegal.
Meanwhile, Bahrain ordered a ban on showing sympathy to Qatar on social media, while the UAE warned its residents that they could face 15 years in jail and a fine of as much as $136,000, by posting messages of support for Qatar.
In response, Qatar urged its citizens to take the high-road on social media, telling citizens and residents to mind "Islamic and Arab values" on social media.
On Thursday, even as diplomacy continued with Trump calling on the UAE crown prince and French President Emmanuel Macron calling for all sides to "pursue dialogue", Qatar's adversaries hardened their stance against Doha.
Emirates Post Group announced that it halted postal services to Qatar. The Qatar Airways website was also blocked in the UAE.
Earlier, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said his country "is open to any options to protect ourselves from Qatar", as he demanded that Doha distance itself from Iran and "stop supporting terrorist organisations". UAE's foreign minister, meanwhile, said "there's nothing to negotiate" with Qatar.
Earlier, the bloc opposing Qatar had demanded that it stops supporting groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
On Thursday evening, a joint action by Saudi, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt placed 59 individuals and 12 organisations on a "terror list". It includes the Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yousuf al-Qaradawi and 18 prominent Qataris.
On Friday, Qatar dismissed the list as baseless.
"The recent joint statement issued by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE regarding a 'terror finance watch list' once again reinforces baseless allegations that hold no foundation in fact," read a statement from Qatar's government.
Earlier, Qatar's foreign minister had said defiantly that the country would not surrender to the pressure applied to it.
"We are not ready to surrender, and will never be ready to surrender, the independence of our foreign policy," Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told Al Jazeera.
|The bloc opposing Qatar have demanded that it stops supporting groups like Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood [Al Jazeera]|