Four Arab states severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar on June 5. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism and extremism” – charges that Qatar strongly denies. The Saudi-led group of nations cut air and sea link with Qatar, and have also accused it of supporting the region’s rival, Iran. The bloc released a list of 59 people and 12 organisations with links to Qatar – claiming they have ties to “terrorism”. Qatar has, on a number of occasions, rejected the allegations and described them as “baseless”.
Though various mediation efforts are ongoing, the dispute is yet to be resolved. Here is a list of the key players who have been involved in the GCC rift.
SAUDI ARABIA AND ALLIES
Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
King of Saudi Arabia
The king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 82, was previously governor of Riyadh for 48 years. He was named crown prince following the death of his brother in 2012, and became king in 2015.
His most notable moves to date was to launch a war on Yemen in March 2015 – where the Saudi-led bloc is supported by eight other Arab countries including the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt. As a result of the diplomatic crisis Qatar was removed from the coalition shortly after. Saudi has blocked the only land crossing into Qatar and has blocked air and sea links to the country, as well
Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud
Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
The deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia, 31-year-old Mohammad bin Salman is also the kingdom’s minister of defence. In one of his first moves as defence minister, he led the Saudi coalition’s invasion in Yemen. Operation Decisive Storm was launched in 2015, and to date, the United Nations has accused the coalition of war crimes. The kingdom also openly supports opposition fighters in Syria, who are battling against government forces. It is believed that Mohammad bin Salman was behind the GCC diplomatic rift, seeking to challenge the Qatari emir’s power and credibility in the region.
Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs
Saudi Arabia’s 55-year-old foreign minister has been serving his post since April 2015. The diplomat previously served as ambassador to the United States, where he worked to strengthen ties with the US Congress.
In the latest GCC rift, he said the sanctions imposed against Qatar are meant to convince it to change its policies. “The decisions that were made were very strong and will have a fairly large cost on Qatar and we do not believe that Qataris want to sustain those costs,” he said, urging Qatar to cut ties with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jubeir said that denying Qatar access to its airspace and ports is Saudi’s “sovereign right”. He also said that Qatar should respond to demands to stop its support for “extremism and terrorism”, and that the UAE, along with its allies, are working on a list of grievances to be presented to Qatar “fairly soon”.
Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi
The crown prince of Abu Dhabi and the UAE’s de-facto ruler, Mohammed bin Zayed is seen to be leading on much of the UAE’s foreign policy. Among the four nations that recently cut diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, the UAE domestically criminalised sympathy and support for Qatar.
A recent UN report accused the UAE of repeatedly violating an international arms embargo in Libya, and secretly funding a renegade general fighting against the UN-backed government in Tripoli.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
President of Egypt
The Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has been in power since 2013, following the military overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsi, who belongs to Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi’s recent and first visit to the White House as president saw the renewing of what was a soured relationship between the two countries. Following the Saudi summit, Sisi vowed to fight “terrorism in partnership with Middle East leaders”. Egypt has witnessed a string of violent attacks against its police and military personnel, as well as against its Coptic Christian minority, and has been in a state of emergency since April 2017.
Last month, Sisi ratified a law that heavily restricts the operations of some 47,000 non-governmental organisations across Egypt, and most recently, the Egyptian government blocked access to 64 independent news websites, which according to analysts, is part of a wider crackdown on dissent.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the United States
The UAE’s ambassador to the United States, Yousef al-Otaiba is a well-known figure in US national security circles. He was recently revealed to have denounced Trump’s presidential win in a series of leaked emails. The emails also revealed that the UAE has established relations with a pro-Israel think-tank in an attempt to discredit Qatar. Analysts say the emails shed light on the UAE’s agenda in the region.
He told reporters in Washington that the US should consider relocating its Gulf airbase, referring to the Qatar-based military base.
Al-Otaiba previously said that the Gulf countries that severed ties with Qatar will present a list of demands to Washington “fairly soon”, and that the economic pressure on Qatar is likely to increase.
QATAR’S KEY PLAYERS
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Emir of Qatar
One of the youngest emirs in Qatar’s history, Sheikh Tamim assumed power in June 2013. The 37-year-old emir took over from his father, but previously held various positions including deputy commander in chief of the Qatar Armed Forces and chairperson of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. The country’s rich oil and natural gas reserves were responsible for its economic boom and trade ties. Sheikh Tamim’s pragmatic policies saw him fostering relations with nations and groups across the political spectrum – making him a regional mediator on issues such as the internal Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and Sudan. The most recent rift – in which the quartet once again severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of harbouring “terrorism” – emerged after hackers targeted Qatar News Agency, posting comments attributed to Sheikh Tamim criticising US foreign policy. Qatar strongly rejects the charges as having “no basis”.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Qatar’s foreign minister since January 2016, Sheikh Mohammed was previously serving as assistant foreign minister. Amid the ongoing GCC rift, he rendered the sanctions against Qatar as “unfair” and “illegal”, pointing out that Qatar is an independent country with sovereignty, and “no one has the right to intervene in our foreign policy”. Shielding Qatar’s support for Gaza-based Islamist movement Hamas, Sheikh Mohammed referred to the group as a “legitimate resistance group”. “We do not support Hamas, we support the Palestinian people,” he said.
Akbar Al Baker
CEO of Qatar Airways
The chief executive officer of Qatar Airways, the state-owned flagship carrier that links to more than 150 destinations, said that the blockade on Qatar may “leave a lasting wound”, describing it as “illegal”. Although the business saw a slight hit in sales when the crisis began, Al Baker, who became the airline’s CEO in 1997, said people are still using Qatar Airways as a travel hub.
“We have found new markets and this is our growth strategy,” he said. Al Baker added that he is in talks with the United Nations aviation agency, which administers the Chicago convention that guarantees civil overflights. During his time as CEO, Qatar Airways has expanded its reach to destinations across Central, Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, the Middle East, and Oceania. Previously, he was the Chairman of Qatar Tourism Authority, and is currently heading the development of Qatar’s Hamad International Airport.
Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri
Chairman of the National Human Rights Committee of Qatar
Chairman of Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) since 2009, Ali bin Smaikh al-Marri called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to denounce the air, sea, and land blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies on neighbouring Qatar, as it infringes on the rights of more than 13,000 Gulf Cooperation Council citizens. Al-Marri, who holds a PhD in philosophy and political science, described the blockade and its procedures as “worse than the Berlin Wall”. He plays a significant role in the promotion of Human Rights, and previously served in the Arab League. NHRC said the blockade’s effects are mounting as it receives more than 100 complaints every day from mixed-nationality families, businessmen, and students. The body has hired lawyers to take legal action to restore rights that have been violated, and, according to Al-Marri, will work on requesting damages from the countries that imposed the blockade.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS
Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah
Emir of Kuwait
The 88-year-old Kuwaiti emir who was sworn in on January 2006 is acting as an ongoing mediator between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain, who severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar more than two weeks ago. Sheikh Sabah has, since the start of the diplomatic rift, held meetings with the heads of the countries involved, but has not yet released a statement with next steps.
The Kuwaiti ruler has urged Sheikh Tamim of Qatar to refrain from making statements and to focus on easing tensions. He warned that the rift may lead to undesirable consequences. “No matter how difficult the efforts, I will do my best to mediate among the brothers,” he said.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
President of Turkey
The Turkish President and Qatar-ally, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has denounced the blockade on Qatar and called for the full removal of the Saudi-led blockade, referring to the country’s isolation as a “death sentence”. He described the blockade as “inhumane” and going against “Islamic values”, and called on the Saudi king to take a leading role to end the crisis through dialogue before the holy month of Ramadan ends. Erdogan continuously rejected allegations against Qatar and has been working to resolve the dispute, reiterating that Qatar “took the most determined stand against the terrorist organisation, Daesh”, referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, known as ISIS).
The country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, met with the Gulf envoy and King Salman of Saudi to help mediate. Erdogan ratified two deals on the deployment of Turkish troops to a Turkish military base in Qatar, to ensure the security of the whole region. In addition, Turkey immediately responded to the shortage of food and medical supplies as a result of the blockade on Qatar and has since exported various goods to the country.
President of Iran
Head of government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Hassan Rouhani was re-elected as president in the 2017 elections. Iran has called for dialogue to resolve the GCC dispute and has offered to send food shipments following the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its neighbouring allies. Energy production from the world’s largest natural gas field binds Iran and Qatar economically. The country is perceived as a threat by Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. The Gulf states have demanded that Qatar distance itself from Iran, accusing it of conspiring against them.
President of the United States
The US president, Donald Trump, who took office in January, made his first visit to the Middle East as president in May, during which he visited Saudi Arabia. In the two-day visit, Trump signed an arms deal with Saudi Arabia worth more than $100bn and addressed more than 50 nations in a summit in which he spoke about Islam and the fight against “extremism”. Qatar was one of the Muslim countries to attend the summit, just weeks before Saudi and its allies severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar.
In a tweet about the crisis, Trump said that leaders “pointed to Qatar”, and later lauded his visit with the Saudi king and the 50 countries, saying it was “already paying off”. Following the Pentagon’s remarks praising Qatar for hosting a major US airbase, Trump extended a helping hand to Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim, expressing readiness to engage in the efforts to resolve the crisis by inviting all parties involved to the White House. In an unexpected move, two US navy vessels arrived in Qatar days after Trump accused the state of “funding terrorism at a very high level”. Qatar also signed a $12bn agreement for the purchase of F-15 fighter jets from the US.