RIYADH  - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their ambassadors from Doha in an unprecedented move Wednesday in protest at Qatar’s alleged interference in their internal affairs.
The three Gulf Arab states made the decision following what newspapers described as a “stormy” late Tuesday meeting of foreign ministers from the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh.
GCC countries “have exerted massive efforts to contact Qatar on all levels to agree on a unified policy... to ensure non-interference, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs of any member state,” the three countries announced in a joint statement. They have also asked Qatar, a perceived supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in most Gulf states, “not to support any party aiming to threaten security and stability of any GCC member,” it added, citing antagonistic media campaigns.
Critics accuse the influential Doha-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel of biased coverage in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood, and several of its journalists are on trial on Egypt for allegedly supporting the group. The statement stressed that despite the commitment of Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to non-interference during a mini-summit held in Riyadh last year with Kuwait’s emir and the Saudi monarch, his country has failed to comply.
During the tripartite meeting in Riyadh on November 23, the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, tried to ease tensions between Saudi King Abdullah and Sheikh Tamim.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have long been hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their authority.
Most Gulf states hailed the Egyptian military’s overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July and promised billions in aid, while Qatar, which had strongly supported him, has seen its influence in Cairo evaporate.
A top UAE court, which has already jailed dozens of Emirati and 20 Egyptian Islamists, on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmud al-Jidah to seven years in prison followed by deportation after he was convicted with two Emiratis of raising funds for a local Muslim Brotherhood-linked group, Al-Islah
A Qatar rights body on Tuesday slammed the ruling as “unfair,” saying he had been convicted based on confessions made under torture.
In February, Abu Dhabi summoned Doha’s ambassador to protest “insults” to the UAE made by Egypt-born cleric Yusef al-Qaradawi, who is based in Qatar and holds a passport from the Gulf emirate.
But Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan at the time insisted UAE-Qatar relations remain strong despite the spat.
The GCC, formed in 1981, consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.