The Gulf Cooperation Council has been hit by its biggest diplomatic crisis in years as several nations, including the Arab states of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt completely severed their diplomatic relations with Qatar. The three nations have withdrawn their diplomats from Doha, shut down their air, sea and land borders with the country, closed down Al Jazeera bureaus within their respective states and Qatari diplomats and residents have been expelled from the Gulf countries. The official explanation offered for this sudden diplomatic move were accusations of supporting terrorism and destabilizing the region by Qatari authorities. These allegations have been vehemently denied by Qatar officials, terming them “baseless” and “unjustified”. Yemen and the Maldives have followed suit by cutting their ties with the country. Kuwait and Oman presently remain the only countries of the GCC retaining diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar.

The tension between Qatar and other GCC nations is not an overnight development. In 2014, Saudi Arab, Bahrain, and the UAE suspended ties with Qatar and withdrew their diplomats from Doha in order to put pressure on the tiny state to fall in line with the policies of the other states. These states had then issued statements accusing Qatar of harboring hostile media, supporting terrorist organizations, interfering in the internal affairs of the other states and taking steps against the security of the region. The strain in Saudi-Qatar relations dates even further back, with border skirmishes in 1992 that left two Qatari soldiers dead and another imprisoned, and previous instances of the Saudi government expressing their disapproval of the content aired on the Qatari news network, Al Jazeera. While relations improved after 2014 through diplomatic efforts, the hostilities among the other Gulf states against Qatar never completely receded.

Qatar has long remained the deviant state in the Gulf for several reasons. Despite being a member of the GCC, Qatar’s foreign policy has not usually aligned with other members’, sometimes outright rivaling that of Saudi Arabia. Qatar has pursued warm relations with their archrival Iran, and extended support for alleged Islamist groups and Muslim Brotherhood led administrations, including the government of Egypt’s former president Mohammed Morsi, in opposition to the other GCC states backing the current president General el-Sisi, who assumed power in a military coup. In the ongoing Syrian conflict, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar oppose the Assad regime, but have sponsored competing guerilla militia groups. Qatar has long been seen as an individually focused state assuming its own policy course and going against the common policies of the other GCC states.

US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh and efforts at bolstering US relations with Saudi Arab and Egypt to put a common front against Iran and radical Islamist groups has been seen by some analysts as contributing to the recent political developments in the Gulf . The visit by the US president and assurances of US support in countering Islamic terrorist groups, a broad term, that could for the Saudis include opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, could have emboldened the two states to take the drastic steps of severing all diplomatic ties with Qatar. Shortly after this visit, the Qatar news agency released comments attributed to the Emir of Qatar about the stabilizing role of Iran in the region, calling Iran an “Islamic Power” and describing Qatar’s relations with the state of Israel as “good”. Qatar denied the statements as fabricated and attributed the source to a hacking of its official websites. The inflammatory remarks caused Saudi Arab and UAE to shut down Qatari media outlets within their territories.

Some observers sympathetic to Qatar have argued that the underlying motivation for the recent actions by the Arab states is a show of strength to reassert Saudi hegemony within the region, to curb the wayward policies of the state and to cause harm to the Qatari economy, one of the most prosperous and progressive in the region. Hosting the headquarters for the first global News network based in a Muslim country, home to the successful Qatar Airways, and all set for the honor of hosting the 2022 Football World Cup, it is inevitable that the tensions in the Gulf will serve a blow to the Qatari economy.

The political atmosphere has already sent the state of Qatar into an economic frenzy. Qatar is dependent on most of its food import from Saudi Arabia. With the only Qatari land border with Saudi Arab shut down, food imports have been affected and food prices in the state are expected to skyrocket. Following the media announcement of the border shut down, Qatari citizens hurried to their nearest supermarkets in order to stock up on food reserves. The Qatar Airlines also finds itself in trouble as it is no longer allowed to use Saudi, Bahrainian and Egyptian airspace. Qatari expatriates have been given a duration of two weeks to leave the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Officials from Turkey and Iran have issued statements expressing regret over the decision of the countries to cut ties with Qatar, urging the states involved to engage in peaceful dialogue to resolve the tensions. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed” tweeted Iran’s foreign minister Muhammad Zarif.

The latest political developments in the Gulf are a cause of concern for the entire Muslim world, and the international community as a whole. The escalation of tensions among the countries threatens regional stability, and produces additional obstacles in the efforts to resolve the ongoing crises in Syria, Yemen, and Libya. It is yet to be seen if the crisis will resolve soon, but analysts agree that for the tensions to blow over, Qatar will have to limit the independence of its media outlets and conform its policies to Saudi ones, as the Saudis are expected to remain steadfast over their stance.