U.S. Arab Allies Recall Envoys From Qatar, as Middle East Regional Blocs Harden

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday described Qatar as aligned against the bulk of the Arab world and emphasized that Cairo would not be returning its ambassador to the Gulf state, on the same day that three Gulf monarchies – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain – withdrew their own envoys from Qatar in a coordinated move.

They said GCC members had signed a deal November 23 that included “a security agreement and a commitment to the principles that ensure non-interference in the internal affairs of any of the GCC countries, either directly or indirectly, and not to support any activity that would threaten the security and stability of any of the GCC countries from organizations or individuals, including support for hostile media.”

“Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain hoped that the agreement will be implemented, however, after more than three months after the signing of the agreement, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain feel that the State of Qatar did not take the necessary actions to put it into practice,” a statement on the Saudi Foreign Ministry Facebook page said.

The move was broadly seen as a reaction to Qatari support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and the three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries issued a statement blasting Doha for interfering in other countries’ “internal affairs.” Qatar quickly declared that it would not be retaliating by withdrawing its own envoys from its fellow GCC members.

The diplomatic rupture has been a long time coming. Recent years have seen Middle East geopolitical dynamics revolve around the formation and interaction of three broad regional blocs, with Israel and the U.S.’s traditional Arab allies in one camp, Iran and its proxies in another, and radical Sunni elements – Turkey, Qatar, and various Muslim Brotherhood movements – in a third. Qatar’s relationship to Egypt has in particular seen dramatic shifts. When Egypt was ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood-linked government of then-President President Mohammed Morsi, Qatar sought to boost Cairo and was castigated for it by the U.S.’s traditional Gulf allies. Morsi’s July 2013 overthrow moved Cairo back into the Israeli-Arab camp of U.S. allies, immediately triggering deep tensions with Doha.

Washington Institute fellow Simon Henderson assessed Wednesday that the withdrawal of Gulf envoys from Qatar “is a setback to U.S. diplomacy with its Gulf allies and another item for the president’s upcoming meeting with Saudi King Abdullah, the council’s unofficial leader.”

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