What some have called the Middle East’s most severe diplomatic crisis in years recently shook the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and several other Sunni Muslim-majority countries cut off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar. The three GCC states taking action against Doha shut off their land, maritime, and air links with the emirate and told their nationals in Qatar that they had two weeks to depart the targeted country.
The reasons for this dramatic step against Qatar are rooted mainly in Doha’s support for Sunni Islamist movements and prominent figures in the Middle East; the emirate’s ownership of al-Jazeera and other media platforms which numerous Arab governments perceive as propaganda networks seeking to stir up unrest; and Qatar’s cordial relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran, with which the Arab Gulf country shares the world’s largest natural gas reserve. These pillars of Qatari foreign policy have long left the Bahrainis, Egyptians, Emiratis, and Saudis with the belief that Doha’s actions have fueled extremism and terrorism across the Arab world. The Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is the key. The move against Qatar came two weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump’s state visit to the Kingdom, during which he called for a grand alliance against Islamist terrorism and its alleged supporters, most prominently Iran. The Deputy Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed visited the White House days before Trump’s trip to Riyadh, and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid a visit to Washington in March. Feeling emboldened and empowered by the new American leadership, the Saudis and Emiratis are now acting more assertively against their enemies and rivals.