A Dustup in the Gulf

The Meaning of the Intramonarchy Spat

A border crossing between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, June 12. Tom Finn / REUTERS

Considering the religious, cultural, and historical commonalities among the monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula, the relations among their governments can be remarkably fraught. The latest spat centers around a military graduation ceremony attended by the emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on May 23. Later that day, the state-run Qatar News Agency (QNA) reported that Tamim made a speech at the ceremony, in which he mentioned tensions between Qatar and the United States, questioned how long U.S. President Donald Trump would remain in power, argued that Hamas was the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, reaffirmed Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and noted Qatar’s good relations with Israel. A few hours later, QNA’s Twitter account published three tweets announcing the discovery of a plot by Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to discredit Qatar. Qatar, QNA said, was withdrawing its ambassadors from those states.     

Qatari officials denied that QNA’s reports were true. Tamim had not even spoken at the graduation ceremony, they argued: their country’s news agency had been the victim of a carefully orchestrated hack.

Doha’s denials did not dent the regional furor that ensued. Nor did the results of an FBI investigation that, two weeks later, found that Russian hackers were responsible. Over a dozen editorials and articles appeared in Saudi and Emirati newspapers chiding Qatar as to its errant policies, all of which run counter to Riyadh’s and Abu Dhabi’s own preferences. Qatar’s nearest neighbors—Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE—were joined by Egypt in breaking off diplomatic relations with Doha and asking Qataris to return home within two weeks. The countries also enforced an air, sea, and land blockade on Qatar—a biting punishment, since Qatar is highly dependent on its land border with Saudi Arabia and on Dubai’s Jebel Ali port for imports, especially those of fresh food and construction materials.

Although the other Gulf monarchies did not appear

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