Johannesburg – The Gulf crisis between Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries - the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - is escalating with both sides refusing to back down.
One of the major points of friction between the two sides is the allegation that Qatar is “supporting terrorism”.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE and non-GCC member, Egypt, accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and backing a number of groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. The other GCC member, Oman, has so far remained neutral.
However, in an ironic development, a foreign policy think tank has accused Saudi Arabia of being the chief promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK.
On Wednesday the foreign ministers, and intelligence heads, of the three GCC countries, and Egypt, met in Cairo to discuss the escalation as the deadline for Qatar to respond to a list of demands passed.
The meeting followed Qatar making it clear the same day that the demands made on it by the GCC bloc - before sanctions would be lifted and normal relations restored - were against international law, “unreasonable and undoable”, Al Jazeera reported.
The bloc has imposed limited sanctions on the small emirate after accusing the country “of supporting terrorism”, and demanding among other things that the Al Jazeera TV network based in the Qatari capital Doha be closed down, that Qatar rethink its ties with Iran and that Turkey’s military base in the country be closed.
Following Qatar’s defiance the four countries said they would be increasing sanctions on Qatar, which is already reeling from a land, air and sea blockade imposed on it since the crisis erupted approximately a month ago.
In the interim Turkey and Iran have been trying to fill the food and other shortages gap by flying in supplies to Qatar.
With Kuwait trying to mediate between the two sides, Doha has said that it will not at this point retaliate against the other countries, specifically the UAE, by cutting off the natural gas shipments it pipes to Dubai.
Qatar supplies approximately one third of the world’s liquefied natural gas (LNG). If Doha does retaliate this would require the UAE to replace Qatari fuel with more expensive supplies of LNG.
Meanwhile, the diplomatic brouhaha has dragged regional powers into the fray with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan underlining his country’s support for Qatar, and his anger at the demand for the closure of the Turkish military base in Doha.
US President Donald Trump too is following developments closely.
The US also has a large military base in Qatar and the Pentagon has voiced support for Qatar’s fight against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria and Iraq.
In contradicton the White House has simultaneously echoed KSA’s demand for Doha to cut ties with “terrorist groups” including the Muslim Brotherhood.
Trump has been in contact with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi by telephone to discuss the stale mate while pushing for a diplomatic resolution.
Germany has also weighed in after Kuwait’s foreign minister met his German counterpart on Wednesday in Germany for talks over the issue, with Bonn expressing support for Kuwait’s efforts at arbitration.
However, in a surprising twist of events, The Henry Jackson Society think tank, which advocates the spread of liberal democracy, the rule of law and the market economy, said there was a "clear and growing link" between Islamist organisations receiving overseas funds, hate preachers and Jihadist groups promoting violence in the UK and Riyadh, the BBC reported.
The think tank has called for a public inquiry into the role of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.
Predictably the Saudi embassy in London categorically denied the claim but the accusation comes at a time when UK ministers are under public pressure to finalise their own report on UK-based Islamist groups, following a series of deadly bomb blasts carried out by religious extremists in the country.
“Critics have suggested it could make uncomfortable reading for the government, which has close and longstanding diplomatic, security and economic links with the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia,” reported the BBC.