Several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Yemen, announced early yesterday morning that they were cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar, citing Doha's alleged support for "terrorist groups" in the Middle East. In a written statement, Qatar's Foreign Ministry responded by saying that the measures were "unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions," while claiming that there was "a campaign of lies" underway intended to "undermine the State of Qatar." The ministry also accused Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE of coordinating "a planned and clandestine media campaign" against Doha.
The diplomatic crisis kicked off just days after the Qatar News Agency (QNA) was attacked by anonymous hackers, who published false remarks attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim al-Thani. Over the weekend, the controversy took another turn, as emails taken from the inbox of Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador to Washington, purported to show that his government was part of a coordinated campaign to tarnish Qatar's image. "The emails … show a growing relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the pro-Israel, neoconservative think tank called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies," The Intercept reported on Saturday. UAE officials and FDD staff, the website added, held "extensive discussion on Qatar."
The latest diplomatic spat in the Gulf region has far-reaching implications for businesses and private citizens. Within hours of the decision to sever diplomatic ties with Doha by Saudi Arabia and others, Qatari stocks tumbled over 7 percent. Qatar Airways suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia and will presumably conduct flights to Western capitals via Iran. A number of other airlines, including the Abu Dhabi-based Etihad and the Dubai-based Emirates, announced that they would suspend flights to and from Doha starting Tuesday. Meanwhile, the three Gulf states ordered Qatari visitors to leave within two weeks.
While Iranian officials warned that cutting diplomatic ties was "no way to solve the crisis," U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he did not expect the decision by Saudi Arabia and others to have a significant effect on the fight against Daesh and urged the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to sort things out.
At a time when the Islamic world faces serious challenges, including extreme poverty, radicalism and underdevelopment, the current escalation between major Muslim countries won't serve anyone's interests – let alone the interests of more than 1 billion Muslims around the world. Nor does the confrontation, which unfortunately takes place in the holy month of Ramadan, raise the Muslim community's hopes for the future.
Instead, all parties must refrain from further fueling tensions in the region and search for ways to resolve problems through dialogue.
Under King Salman, Saudi Arabia played an important and stabilizing role in the Middle East, including Syria. In addition to providing more assistance to Turkey's humanitarian relief efforts for Syrian refugees than any other government, Riyadh has been a reliable partner in that country. Moving forward, the Saudi government can and should continue to promote stability in the region by reaching out to Qatar.
In order to ensure that future attempts to promote dialogue are not haunted by Monday's announcements, it is important for all parties to ensure that the government of Qatar is not treated in an unfair, aggressive or hostile manner.
At the same time, Ankara must use its influence with Doha and Riyadh to resolve this crisis through dialogue. As a close ally of both nations, Turkey can serve as a mediator in an effort to mitigate tensions, help Muslim countries focus on pressing issues and create a common ground for regional powers to join together to restore peace and stability.