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Qatar 'Far Less Dangerous Than Saudi Arabia' Despite Riyadh-Led Terror Sanctions

The news that six Gulf states have cut diplomatic relations with Qatar is an attempt by Saudi Arabia to "get everybody in line" following Donald Trump's visit to the region, Professor Peter Sluglett told Radio Sputnik.

On Monday, four Arab states – Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – announced that they had cut diplomatic ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Islamic extremism. The governments of Yemen and Libya followed suit later in the day.

"(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly," Saudi state news agency SPA said.

Riyadh also announced the closure of its land border with Qatar, which could cause significant problems for its neighbor, reliant on food supplies imported across land from Saudi Arabia.

In addition, it has canceled the broadcasting license and started closing Saudi offices of the al Jazeera satellite network, alleging that Qatar uses the government-owned network to broadcast militant ideology.

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Peter Sluglett, visiting research professor at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute, told Radio Sputnik that the sudden decision is likely the consequence of US President Donald Trump's recent visit to Riyadh, and a shared desire to put pressure on Doha's foreign policy.

"Qatar always had a fairly independent policy, it had for example always supported the Muslim brethren, but in many ways it has done the same sort of thing that the Saudis have. Supporting rebel/terrorist groups in Syria for example, there's not much difference between them," Sluglett explained.

"Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar – not necessarily the government but wealthy citizens in these countries – have been supporting extremist Islamic groups for years. I suspect this is happening now because of Trump's recent visits to Saudi Arabia and this whole notion that somehow the Gulf states should present some sort of united front."

Morning view of Cairo. File photo - Sputnik International
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In contrast to other Gulf states, "Qatar does not like being seen to be in the pocket of Saudi Arabia," and prefers to pursue more independent foreign policy, including in its relations with Iran.

"What is important is that Qatar has and always will have a large gas field with Iran and so Qatar's need to have decent relations with Iran is a fact of life," Sluglett explained.

"I think this is the Saudi regime's desire to get everybody in line. This useless and destructive war in Yemen is another facet of this."

"To sum up, Qatar is no more a danger to the security of the region than any of the other Gulf states and it is far less dangerous than Saudi Arabia, for example."

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