Jun 14, 2017

Why seven Arab nations cut ties with Qatar

Last week, seven of Qatar's neighbors cut diplomatic ties with the nation, citing Qatar's financial support of terrorist groups in the region. But tensions in the Gulf region have been brewing for several years.

Data: Natural Earth; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios
Data: Natural Earth; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The fallout: The crisis is tearing apart households as Saudi, Bahraini and Emirati family members are forced to leave Qatar. The nation is relying on Iran, which sent in several airplane-loads of fruits and vegetables, to sustain the impact of the seven-nation blockade. Turkey has also offered aid. And one Qatari business tycoon is flying 4,000 cows into the country to compensate for the lack of fresh dairy products that once came from Saudi Arabia.

Qatar's leaders have turned their focus inward and have not taken significant steps to remedy relations with regional neighbors. The foreign minister said Qatar has yet to hear specific demands from the nations who have cut ties.

How the crisis reached fever pitch: Qatar has supported Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. The Gulf nation has also maintained a strong diplomatic relationship with Saudi Arabia's geopolitical rival Iran. And Saudi Arabia, the nation with which Qatar shares its only land border, has been a leader in the push to isolate the nation.

  • During the 2011 Arab Spring, Qatar offered financial support and media exposure to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and militant groups in Libya and Syria, among others. Qatar "actively promoted regime change across the Arab world," while its neighbors did not. In response, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. put diplomatic pressure on Qatar to join their efforts against these groups. (WaPo)
  • "The absolute minimum" is how one diplomat in the Gulf described Qatar's contribution to Reuters. For a few years, Qatar maintained the delicate balance of continuing to support Islamist groups while keeping its neighbors relatively happy. (Reuters)
  • Enter Trump. The Saudis saw an opportunity in the onset of Trump administration — new leadership that would likely support a bolstered effort to pressure Qatar. When Arab countries began to cut ties with Qatar, Trump tweeted and claimed responsibility for the move. (WaPo/NBC)
  • And then there was fake news. A final trigger was a false report disseminated in late May by the state's media which quoted the Emir of Qatar as stating support for Iran and criticizing Trump. It was later concluded that the news agency was hacked by Russia.
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