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Saudi Arabia, Egypt And Other Arab Countries Break Ties With Qatar


The state of Qatar - Q-A-T-A-R - is fabulously rich thanks to natural gas. Its population is very small. There are around 300,000 citizens of Qatar. It is home to Al-Jazeera, as well as to a huge U.S. airbase. And at the moment, it's in hot water with other Arab states. Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have broken off diplomatic relations. Saudi has closed its border and barred Al-Jazeera. Why? Well, we're going to ask Professor Allen Fromherz of Georgia State University who's written a history of Qatar. Welcome to the program once again.

ALLEN FROMHERZ: Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, a couple of other countries say that Qatar has been supporting Islamists in the Syrian war. Is that the reason for this cutting off of relations, or is - are the causes deeper than that?

FROMHERZ: The causes are much deeper than just that allegation. Qatar has been pursuing an independent foreign policy, a foreign policy that separates itself from the will of Saudi Arabia and the will of some of its neighbors within the region, including the United Arab Emirates. For example, in the past, it has supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar also has a relationship with Iran, which is different from the rest of the Sunni states. It has to share an oil field with Iran, the North Field, and so it has a closer relationship than Saudi Arabia, UAE and the other GCC states.

SIEGEL: These conflicts, though, are longstanding. What is it that ignited this action by the Arab states all of a sudden?

FROMHERZ: In this case, according to Qatar, it was an instigation campaign that occurred when there was an alleged broadcast from Qatari national news showing Sheikh Tamim, the ruler of Qatar, allegedly saying that he was a friend of Israel and that he was against the United States and that he was supporting Iran. Qatar is saying they are complete fabrications. But the other nations are using this as a reason for isolating Qatar.

SIEGEL: Isolation, in this case, goes beyond pulling your diplomats out. I mean, we're talking about Saudi closing its - I guess the only land border that Qatar has, which would keep a lot of food out of the country. Flights from the Qatari airline are banned. And Al-Jazeera has been banned from Saudi Arabia. Sounds - this could hurt.

FROMHERZ: Yes, this is serious. Qatar has gone so far as to say that this is a violation of its sovereignty, that this is an attempt by Saudi Arabia and by other nations to impose a type of guardianship upon Qatar to punish it for its more independent stance and its attempt to resolve broader conflicts within the Middle East.

SIEGEL: If, in fact, the complaints of Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the others against Qater can be summed up as a complaint against Qatar's independence, its autonomous foreign policy, is that something that you can imagine Qatar compromising in order to restore proper relations? Or is that very independence just too central to what Qatar is all about?

FROMHERZ: Well, it has compromised in the past. In 2014, it did expel some Muslim Brotherhood members. I could imagine that it may do more. The question is how much will be enough for its neighbors, and how much will Qatar be protected, A, by the United States that has an interest in seeing a unified cooperation council and, B, we have to remember, so much of what makes Qatar Qatar are Muslims and immigrants from South Asia, from Pakistan, from India. So the rest of the Islamic world itself is also involved in this process as well. So Qatar, in the past, you know, it was the mediator, but now, it's seeing the other side of the coin.

SIEGEL: Professor Allen Fromherz, the author of "Qatar: A Modern History," spoke to us from Atlanta. Thanks for talking with us again.

FROMHERZ: Thank you so much, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.