Arab officials have claimed Qatar and Turkey are establishing spy networks in GCC states to report on plans to act against the Muslim Brotherhood, a leading Gulf military analyst has said.
Director of research and consultancy at the Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), Dr Theodore Karasik, could not elaborate on the allegations during an interview with Arabian Business but said the suspected spying was a key element of the anger in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain against fellow Gulf Cooperation Council member Qatar.
What had been private tensions between the countries began to spill into the public arena earlier this year when the UAE summoned the Qatari ambassador to explain comments aired on Doha-based broadcaster Al Jazeera that accused the UAE of being a country against Islamic rule.
They reached boiling point last week when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha and Saudi Arabia threatened to block land and sea borders with Qatar unless it met several key demands, including ending ties with the Islamist group Muslim Brotherhood and closing down Al Jazeera.
Karasik said the escalating conflict had the potential to dramatically shift security ties in the region.
“There’s definitely a, I don’t want to say Cold War, but I would say Soft War [going on],” he told Arabian Business.
“There’s a major dispute ongoing that has immense consequences for the future security architecture of the region.”
According to Karasik, who is based in Dubai, the sudden action taken against Qatar is based on the emirate’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, including financially backing the former Mohamed Morsi regime in Egypt and its “antagonistic” broadcaster Al Jazeera.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain also are angry at Qatar’s interference in their internal affairs and its increasingly close relationship with Turkey and Iran.
“Saudi Arabia, the UAE [and Bahrain] thought the new Emir [in Qatar] would be a change in Qatari attitude... but instead they’ve created a safe haven for the Brotherhood and the Brotherhood continues to get money and support from the Qatari government, which runs completely opposite to... Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, who view the Brotherhood as a political Islamic organisation intent on tearing kingdoms apart,” Karasik said.
The veteran analyst expects the three Gulf states to continue to take action against Qatar until it changes course.
Saudi Arabia already has threatened to close its land border with Qatar, through which a significant amount of food and other exports pass.
The kingdom also could restrict access to its airports and airspace for Qatar Airways, potentially causing a dramatic dent in the airline’s budget and putting at risk its plans to launch a domestic-only carrier in Saudi Arabia later this year.
“There’s also the game of ‘what will [Saudi] papers say about Qatar,” Karasik said, suggesting the rulers could attack Qatar through media stories that impact the country’s reputation.
For example, Gulf media has been relatively low key – in contrast to Western media - in its reporting of how Qatar won the FIFA vote to host the World Cup 2022, amid allegations of corruption, as well as revelations that thousands of foreign labourers will die during construction of infrastructure for the event.
“These stories may be opening up again [in the Gulf],” Karasik said.
Oman, which has for years preferred to sit on the outside of the GCC alliance, and Kuwait, where the Muslim Brotherhood has its own political party, so far have not publicly spoken about the rift between their neighbours, although it is understood that Kuwait has privately expressed disappointment at the withdrawal of the ambassadors.
Karasik does not believe they can remain silent for much longer.
“They’re going to have to weigh in eventually, in some form or another,” he said.
“Kuwait by far has to weigh in because they have a significant Muslim Brotherhood presence, but Kuwait has acted as negotiator before on these issues.”
Tensions between the GCC members have existed since the group’s formation in 1981, including clashes on the Saudi-Qatar border in the 1990s.
With Qatar declaring it remained defiant and would not bow to pressure to change its foreign policy, any resolution between the states seems some time away.
“The accusations against Qatar are very, very serious and basically it almost boils down to the [allegation] that Qatar is harbouring a terrorist group, so that kind of thinking, I don’t think will be fixed overnight,” Karasik said.
Qatar has been moving closer to Turkey, which supports the Muslim Brotherhood, and Iran, which it is trying to convince to support the conservative group.
Karasik said changes in security ties in the region also could affect businesses, with firms based in Qatar and also operating in other GCC states potentially forced to reconsider their alliances.
“Depending on where the company is, they might need to make an adjustment in order to have business continuity because this is a political disaster for them,” he said.
“I know there are businesses in the southern Gulf states that are now very wary of doing any business in Qatar and... there are expats who work in Qatar who are trying to change jobs to southern Gulf countries and they’re residencies are not being approved.
“There seems to be some policy in place making it difficult to do contractual agreements and joint business operations between those countries.
“Companies that have headquarters in Qatar and also operate in other Gulf states might face some problems. It will depend on the nature of the company and its relationship with the leadership in the country.”For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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