Bahrain blasts Qatar's ties with Iran

By Ahmed Hassan in Bahrain

An Iranian woman walks past a Qatar Airways branch in the capital Tehran on June 6th. Saudi Arabia and allies including Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on Monday, accusing the Gulf state of supporting extremism. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

An Iranian woman walks past a Qatar Airways branch in the capital Tehran on June 6th. Saudi Arabia and allies including Egypt, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties and transport links with Qatar on Monday, accusing the Gulf state of supporting extremism. [Atta Kenare/AFP]

A number of Bahraini officials and observers cite Qatar's ties with Iran as the main source behind the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years.

Arab nations, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, on Monday (June 5th) cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting extremism and committing "gross violations".

"Qatar isolated itself with its reckless political actions," said political analyst Salman Nasser, chairman of the Independent Human Rights Activists Group.

"The Doha government made a grave mistake by strengthening its relations with Iran, whose sectarian doctrine includes splitting the Arab ranks and interfering in the affairs of the Gulf states," he said.

"Qatar is called upon to correct its political situation immediately and reassess its calculations with regard to its alignment with a country that has ill intent towards all the countries of the region," Nasser said.

He called on Qatar to "reorient its political compass towards Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries", pointing out that it cannot align itself with two opposites, because this would not yield positive results.

"Doha must recognise that it is a founding member of the GCC, and cannot make secret military and economic agreements with a republic that is well-known for its engagement in extremist and terrorist activity," he said.

This goes against the principles of the GCC, which urge unity and common purpose, he said, noting that Iran is the only beneficiary of all that happened, which helps it achieve its political and colonial ambitions in the region.

Tough measures

Bahrain on Monday (June 5th) withdrew the Bahraini diplomatic mission from Doha, and gave all members of the Qatari diplomatic mission 48 hours to leave the country.

Bahrain also closed its airspace, ports and regional waters to Qatari air and maritime traffic, revoked the licenses of Qatar Airways and ordered the closure of its offices in the kingdom.

The Bahraini government banned its citizens from traveling to or staying in Qatar, and refused to allow Qatari nationals to enter or pass through its territory. Qatari residents and visitors were given 14 days to leave Bahrain.

In a Monday statement, Bahrain said the severance of diplomatic relations "is based on the insistence of the state of Qatar to continue to undermine the security and stability of the kingdom of Bahrain and interfere in its domestic affairs, as well as on the escalation and incitement of its media and its support of acts of terror and financing armed groups affiliated with Iran to carry out subversive attacks and spread chaos in the kingdom".

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Mauritania, the Maldives, Mauritius and Comoros Islands took similar actions, and Jordan said it would scale back diplomatic representation in Doha and close the Amman office of Al-Jazeera TV.

Bahrain on Thursday (June 8th) followed the UAE in announcing that expressing sympathy for Qatar over sanctions imposed by its Gulf neighbours was an offence punishable by a lengthy jail term, AFP reported.

"Any expression of sympathy with the government of Qatar or opposition to the measures taken by the government of Bahrain, whether through social media, Twitter or any other form of communication, is a criminal offence punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine," a Bahraini interior ministry statement said.

The UAE on Wednesday announced a similar decision, warning that offenders could face between three and 15 years in prison and a fine of 500,000 dirhams ($136,125) should they criticise the decision to boycott Qatar.

The crisis is the first of its kind since ambassadors were withdrawn in 2014 for reasons similar to the current regional escalation against the Doha government.

Qatar has made 'grave mistakes'

Bahraini MP Khaled al-Shaer said the decisions taken by Bahrain and other governments were "necessary to make Qatar realise that it has made grave mistakes that have accumulated over a long period of time".

Qatar sought to interfere in Bahrain's internal affairs and destabilise the kingdom by "supporting armed terrorist activities", al-Shaer said.

Additionally, he said, it engaged in media incitement to support the financing of Iran-affiliated groups that engaged in subversive activities in Bahrain.

These actions are in "flagrant violation" of international law, he said, as well as the principles of good-neighbourliness or commitment to the constants of Gulf relations, as they renege on all previous commitments.

"Qatar strengthened its relations with the Iranian regime despite Tehran's ongoing and continuing interference in the affairs of the kingdom and Gulf countries," he said.

"The weight that the Gulf states have as a single bloc is important to all GCC states and is of great importance to Qatar," al-Shaer said. "So its continued insistence on going against the grain will cause it to lose GCC support in the face of the forces that seek to fragment the region, particularly Iran."

Disregard for Riyadh agreement

Political and regional affairs analyst Hamad al-Amer noted that Qatar signed the Riyadh agreement in 2014 in the wake of a previous crisis.

In this agreement, it committed to not harbour or support terrorist groups or parties hostile to GCC states and to stop all media activities against GCC states.

"Doha is not adhering to any of the Riyadh agreement provisions, and what exacerbated the situation is its media incitement against its neighbours, which has had a negative impact on the security and stability of GCC states," he said.

Al-Amer said the main beneficiary of the current Gulf dispute is the Iranian regime, which "was able to expand its influence in many Arab countries... by sponsoring terrorism and violence and smuggling arms and explosives into Bahrain and Saudi Arabia".

"Qatar today has the obligation to commit itself to strengthening its co-operation with the Gulf states to protect its security, independence and achieve its aspirations," al-Amer said.

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Because each state has a certain goal in terms of strengthening relations. Saudi Arabia is in agreement with major powers that finance terrorism, and also with Bahrain. Qatar has not intervened in these relations.