— Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing their Gulf neighbor of interfering in their internal affairs and jeopardizing regional security.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the three nations, which along with Qatar, Kuwait and Oman make up the Gulf Cooperation Council
- or GCC - said the removals followed Doha’s failure to commit to a security agreement signed last year in Riyadh.
By endorsing the pact, nations vowed not to support entities that threatened the stability of the GCC.
Gulf Arab states have been increasingly wary and critical of Qatar’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group accused by some of plotting to overthrow the region’s ruling monarchies.
"In a security sense the Brotherhood, deemed a terrorist group in Egypt, has found refuge and state support in Qatar, and that is a security concern. Doha continues to have Brotherhood members who are active within the country," said
Theodore Karasik, the director of research and consultancy at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
GCC foreign ministers met in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday in a bid to persuade Qatar to implement the security agreement, but failed. Media reports described the meeting as “stormy.”
Karasik said the subsequent withdrawing of ambassadors indicated the situation could become much more serious unless Doha made concessions.
"There has to be real meaningful change that Gulf states can see, and until that happens I think that we’re in for a very tough time," said Karasik.
Qatari officials have yet to publicly comment on the diplomatic fallout.
Middle East analyst Neil Partrick said it was difficult to predict what may develop.
"I don’t think any of the GCC countries have an interest in a major and ongoing spat. On the other hand, I don’t think Qatar will necessarily change dramatically what has been its support for the Muslim Brotherhood outside of the GCC area," he said.
Wednesday’s developments came after a UAE court on Monday sentenced Qatari national Mahmoud al-Jidah to seven years in prison for raising funds for a Brotherhood-linked group in the Emirates.
Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee, which has close ties to the government, criticized the ruling.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain said their ambassadors would leave Qatar immediately.