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Qatar’s history of turbulent relations with UAE

Territorial spats, coups, and regional meddling are among UAE’s grievances with its Gulf neighbour

18:55 April 2, 2014
REG_140402  Qatar Emir Shaikh Tamim bin Hamad AND khalifa1

Abu Dhabi: As the UAE-Qatari relations are seemingly strained since the UAE, along with Bahrain and Saudi Arabia called back their ambassadors on March 5, the conflict of interests is not a new phenomenon.

Dr Abdullah Al Taboor, a leading Emirati historian, said that tensions grew worse between Qatar on the one hand, and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on the other hand, after Shaikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani deposed his father in 1995 and became Qatar’s new emir.

“The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were of the view that by deposing Shaikh Khalifa, Doha failed to respect the Gulf values and traditions. During his visits to the three countries the new emir’s deposed father, Shaikh Khalifa Bin Hamad, made it clear that he was seeking to regain power,” Dr Taboor said.

The UAE received Shaikh Khalifa Bin Hamad on December 21, 1995. Shaikh Khalifa then said that he would set up “temporary quarters” in Abu Dhabi until he returned to power. Shaikh Khalifa also visited Egypt and Syria, where he reiterated he was seeking to resume power.

Dr Al Taboor said Qatar’s leadership accused the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain of helping Shaikh Khalifa Bin Hamad stage a coup that was planned to combine Qataris loyal to the deposed emir with a force of Yemenis and other Arab mercenaries.

“The Qatari leaders also claimed that the three countries had planned to provide air cover for the coup and that the force, which would assemble on the Saudi side of the border, would be commanded by a French officer, who had led Shaikh Khalifa Bin Hamad’s personal guard,” Dr Al Taboor recalled.

Qatar responded by mobilising the Emiri Guard on February 17, 1996 and carrying out several hundred arrests.

Dr Al Taboor said the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain denied that any recruiting effort occurred, accusing Qatar of making false charges to embarrass them. But it seems that tensions stretch back even before the deposing of the emir in 1995.

Dr Fatima Al Sayegh, Associate Professor of History and Archaeology at the UAE University in Al Ain, said the UAE-Qatari relations had been tense throughout the 19th century, due to the secession of the Bani Yas’ sub-tribe of the Al Qubaisat.

“The problem dated back to the year 1818, when the then Ruler of Abu Dhabi Shaikh Mohammad Bin Shakhbout was deposed by his brother Shaikh Tahnoun. Shaikh Mohammad moved to Qatar, where he actively sought to return to power, but he failed.

In 1936, folks of Al Qubaisat migrated to Qatar and lived in Khor Al Udaid. A second wave of migration occurred in 1849, while a third wave took place in 1869, after Qatar’s independence from Bahrain. During that time, sovereignty over Al Udaid had been uncertain. Shaikh Zayed Bin Khalifa, then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, considered it part of his territories, while the Turks courted support from Shaikh Jasem Al Thani of Qatar, with the Turkish foreign minister declaring Khor Al Udaid Qatari territory, a matter which provoked Shaikh Zayed and the British government which supported Abu Dhabi’s ownership of the area,” said Dr Fatima.

Dr Fatima added although the dispute was settled and the Al Qubaisat tribe returned to Abu Dhabi in 1880, the rivalry between Shaikh Jasem Al Thani and Shaikh Zayed The First persisted. Tension grew notably worse in 1888, when Shaikh Ali Al Jauan, son of Shaikh Jasem Al Thani, was killed in skirmishes launched by Abu Dhabi against Qatar. Shaikh Jasem vowed to retaliate and sought support of the Turks. The two parties fought for several years, but eventually reconciled.

But sovereignty over Al Udaid remained undecided until the First World War. Turkey was defeated in the First World War and the small Turkish force stationed in Qatar pulled out in 1915. Calm prevailed and the territorial dispute between the UAE and Qatar was settled for good in 1974.

The withdrawal of three Gulf envoys from Qatar has generated much speculation as to whether the Gulf diplomacy will succeed in stemming the tide of conflict, or that the crisis will deteriorate further as time passes.

“For years now Qatar has opted for taking the opposite direction of the GCC members. So it seems that the membership of the GCC is no more important to Doha” said Mohammad Al Hammadi, Editor of Al Ittihad Arabic daily.

But rapprochement between the Gulf states remains not without its advocates.

Dr. Yousuf Al Hassan, a leading Emirati political analyst, is hopeful that rebuilding bridges with Doha is likely to come to fruition as the sincere mediation by Kuwait is given more time, and as the terrorist organisations the Qataris bet on die away, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Qatar purportedly supports.

However, Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, a leading political analyst, said Qatar got intoxicated by having emerged as an influential player in shaping many unfolding events regionally and internationally, warning Doha could face sanctions imposed by the Gulf countries, including closing borders and airspace with Qatar if Doha doesn’t stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Dr Ebtisam Al Katbi, Chairperson of the Emirates Policy Centre, agreed and said that neither Turkey, nor the Muslim Brotherhood would do any good to Doha, stressing that only sisterly Gulf countries are the real supporters of Qatar at good and bad times. The UAE and Qatar have emerged as influential players and powerhouses regionally and internationally. But what strains their relations is not rivalry or competition. It is the extent of commitment to the legacy of Gulf values and traditions, say analysts.

“Both the UAE and Qatar have pursued high-profile, proactive diplomacy and their support is courted by powers big and small. But unlike the UAE which is fully committed to the legacy of Gulf family and tribal ties and political and cultural values and traditions, Qatar has broken away from these values,” said Dr Abdullah Al Taboor, a leading Emirati historian.

Dr Al Taboor cited a landmark in the UAE’s ties with the GCC members.

“It was 1974, when late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan decided to resolve a border dispute with Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The dispute over territory along the coast between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and Buraimi Oasis area was resolved after the UAE made a trade that gave Saudi Arabia a 25km corridor on the Gulf called Khor Al Udaid along the coastline between Qatar and the UAE in return for Saudi willingness to give up its claims to the Buraimi oasis and territory in the area of what has become the city of Al Ain,” Dr Al Taboor said.

The Al Thani family of Qatar and the Al Nahyan family of Abu Dhabi had long quarrelled over the control of the Khor Al Udaid.

Recently, the differences between these countries has resulted in clear retaliatory disagreement: The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain called back their ambassadors from Qatar on March 5, citing contravention with GCC accords as the reason for the move.

The three countries maintained the six GCC members had agreed not to support “anyone threatening the security and stability of the GCC whether as groups or individuals — via direct security work or through political influence, and not to support hostile media. According to them, Qatar was in clear violation of the declared principles.

The retraction of the countries’ envoys was “to protect their security and stability,” according to a statement issued by the three countries.