ISTANBUL – President Barack Obama is arriving in Saudi Arabia at a critical moment for the country. Its recent decision to withdraw its ambassador from Qatar has revealed the gravity of the crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), composed of the Kingdom’s most immediate neighbors. Indeed, Gulf politics is shifting toward a new balance in the wake of the Saudi-UAE rapprochement and the recent attempt to isolate Qatar.
The UAE and Bahrain have joined Saudi Arabia in downgrading relations with Qatar. This is an unusual move, considering the Gulf states’ tradition of treating political disagreements as a family matter, to be handled behind the scenes. Oman is keeping its distance from the situation, while Kuwait has attempted to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Several factors are driving Saudi Arabia’s moves against Qatar, which include a ban prohibiting Saudi intellectuals from contributing to Qatari newspapers. There is Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood (in Egypt and elsewhere); the speeches by the Islamic theologian Yusuf al-Qardawi and the broadcasting policy of Qatar-funded Al Jazeera since the Arab Spring; and the credence given to the view that Qatar is hosting Western institutions with the intent of orchestrating a coup in the Kingdom.
That view reflects Saudi Arabia’s tough stance against the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has declared a terrorist organization. The Kingdom perceives the Brotherhood’s influence in Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states, as a serious threat to its internal stability and survival.