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Saudi Arabia Delivers Last Warning to Qatar

The Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al Thani paid an unscheduled surprising visit to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on the evening of 22nd of July where he held a surprise meeting with King Abdullah.
Nothing other than the usual diplomatic language came out from either side, and while there is a wide variety of speculation, little concrete information has surfaced following the meeting. A few weeks before the visit, Saudi Arabia sent a letter to Sheikh Tamim stating that Riyadh’s patience with what it described as the “reckless policies” being followed by Qatar is running out. Oman entered in intensive mediation to slow the deterioration of relations which could have possibly led to freezing Qatar’s membership in the GCC.
The visit, however, may have bought the Qataris some time to maneuver their way out of isolation. But the king of Saudi Arabia refused Tamim’s proposal that the GCC start intensive efforts to reach a cease fire in Gaza and end the strangulation of its population. Abdullah said that the Egyptians are presenting a proposal and that they are the ones who are better placed to lead any Arab effort in this regard.
The Saudi letter, which was sent before the visit, alleged that Doha supports the Huthis in Yemen; that it finances the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB); and that it supplies direct assistance to MB figures in Saudi Arabia. A name of a member in the Qatari royal family was cited as implicated in these operations. Prior to the letter to Doha, Riyadh had received a communication from Egyptian President Abdul Fatah Al Sissi that has been described as documented information about wide Qatari support to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
The Emir of Qatar said during his meeting in Jeddah that all the information cited in the letter was not accurate. He claimed that “some people in the Kingdom and elsewhere” are trying to create a fabricated crisis between the two countries and expressed his hope that Riyadh asks for proof before taking such allegation seriously.
Last November, in a meeting arranged by Kuwait’s ruler Sabah Al Ahmed, the Saudi king requested that the three rulers—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait—sign a document certifying their agreements about what was required from the Qataris to end the crisis that led to the withdrawal of Saudi, UAE and Bahraini ambassadors from Doha. Tamim signed the document, but the Saudis believe that he did not fulfill his commitments.
Furthermore, the Saudis have been complaining of a “secret diplomatic role” being played by Tamim’s father, former Emir Hamad bin Jassem that is completely contrary to the Qatari commitment signed with the Kuwaitis. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud bin Faisal mentioned during the Kuwaiti intermediation that the Kingdom has “conclusive proof” that Doha is interfering in the internal affairs of other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members. He also added that Saudi and Egyptian intelligence have “precise information” about how Doha is supporting subversive actions in Egypt. When Tamim challenged the Saudi foreign minister to present the evidence Riyadh claims it has, Al Faisal was blunt: he responded that he does not trust the Qataris and he is not willing to reveal the kingdom’s sources.
There was a false perception that the dispute that led to the withdrawal of ambassadors has ended after the mediation of Kuwaiti Sheikh Sabah Al Salem, but information continued to reach Riyadh from its sources that nothing has really changed in Qatar’s behavior. The presumption in Riyadh was that there is a prearranged “division of labor” between the father, Sheikh Hamad, and his son Tamim. While the son can sign all the documents proposed by Riyadh, his father, in an unofficial capacity, can pursue the policies that anger the Saudis and others in the region.
There are reports that Riyadh signaled to Doha that there will be severe consequences for its faltering in honoring the November 2013 commitments signed by Sheikh Tamim. The measures that the Saudis were considering included denying Qatar Airways permission to use Saudi airspace. Such a step could put the company out of business as Saudi Arabia surrounds Qatar from everywhere except the Gulf.
It is not known whether the Saudis have any fresh information about Qatar’s involvement with the Huthis or the MB after the November deal. But even a continuation of previous policies by Doha is sufficient to convince the Saudis that they have to do more. Riyadh believes that its regional role is now entering a phase that requires maximum caution and rigorous defense of all its regional positions. The regional mess is telling enough about how the road ahead will be full of bumps. Riyadh cannot accept, at this critical juncture, any surprise developments in the region, such as rising troubles in Egypt helped by Doha’s media machine, at the same time there are ongoing regional upheavals.
The Saudi power play is meant to show Doha that if it chooses to play rough, it has to remember that the muscle of the two countries is not equal. Riyadh was indeed hoping that the Qataris would abide by their commitments of last November. But as time passed, it became increasingly evident that Doha would do nothing until it is seriously pressured. The last meeting between King Abdullah and Sheikh Tamim was the most significant step in this direction.

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