“Nature of The Conflict Concerns and
Saudi-Qatari disputes have periodically flared over the last 20-plus years in the wake of a 1992 border clash and the 1995 palace coup in Qatar that saw Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani replace his Saudi-aligned father as emir. A 1996 counter coup attempt reportedly had Saudi backing, and Saudi Arabia has since taken issue with the pro-Islamist and independent foreign policy pursued by Emir Hamad and his son, the current Emir, Tamim bin Hamad. Saudi leaders also have opposed Qatar’s maintenance of ties to Iran, with which Qatar shares lucrative natural gas reserves.
Saudi Arabia and Qatar have both sought to shape the outcome of regional uprisings since 2011, in some cases using their own military forces, such as in Libya and Yemen. In Syria, Qatar has joined other GCC states in assisting groups opposed to President Bashar Al Asad, but the Syrian groups Qatar has helped have been accused of having ties to Al Qaeda. In March 2014, these and related differences—including over the 2013 military overthrow of an elected Muslim Brotherhood-linked President of Egypt—widened to the point where Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha. The Ambassadors returned in November 2014 in exchange for mutual pledges not to interfere in each other’s affairs, but the underlying policy differences remained.
Emir Tamim bin Hamad participated in the May 2017 U.S.-Gulf summit and met with President Donald Trump, but there were indications of Qatari-Saudi discord prior to and during the summit. On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia abruptly severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, closed the land border between the two countries, closed its air space and waters to Qatari vessels, prohibited Saudi nationals from visiting or transiting Qatar, and gave Qatari nationals 14 days to leave the kingdom. The moves followed a period of escalation in official Saudi-Qatari confrontation marked by mutual recriminations and accusations. Saudi Arabia baseless accuses Qatar’s government of supporting terrorism, interfering in the internal affairs of fellow Arab states, and facilitating Iranian efforts to destabilize Saudi Arabia and its neighbors. Qatar rejects the charges and views Saudi Arabia as seeking to violate Qatari sovereignty and impose its will on the country’s leaders and population.
It remains to be seen whether or how the Saudi parties to this dispute might influence to pressure the United States and other Arab countries to support their position. The United States maintains close defense cooperation, including arms sales, with both countries and continues to operate from military bases in Qatar. Limitations imposed on travel and transit to Qatar by Saudi Arabia could impact U.S. nationals and businesses, and U.S. nationals and businesses operating in the kingdom may face pressure to limit or curtail their contacts with Qatar as the dispute continues.
Center for Somaliland Political Progress
Ahmed Ali Abdi