An outspoken Emirati ruling family member today raised the prospect of Qatar’s leadership changing amid a growing diplomatic crisis between it and other Arab nations attempting to isolate the energy-rich travel hub from the rest of the world. Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi’s comments in an interview with The Associated Press came as Emirati officials also announced those offering support to Qatar online could face years in prison and fines for offering sympathy to the country, suggesting the crisis will only intensify. “Qataris are questioning whether this is going to end up in seeing a change in leadership itself in Qatar,” Al Qassemi told the AP in his office in Sharjah, near Dubai. “So it is a very serious issue. Again, this is Qataris speaking to international media wondering whether this is possible at all.” He added: “Doha now is completely isolated. Doha now needs to take serious steps very rapidly to placate not only their neighbours but also their allies around the world.” Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were among those who joined Saudi Arabia on Monday in cutting diplomatic ties with Qatar. They alleged Qatar funds terror groups and has a worryingly close relationship with Iran, a nation with which it shares its vast offshore natural gas field.
Qatar long has denied funding extremists, and its foreign minister has struck a defiant tone in interviews, even after worried residents emptied grocery stores in its capital of Doha. Qatar relies heavily on food imports, especially those coming over its only land border with Saudi Arabia. The Arab countries have blocked Qatari vessels from entering their airspace, as well as using their seaports as Saudi Arabia has closed off its land border. Among others joining them are Yemen’s internationally backed government, which has lost the capital and large portions of the war-torn country. The Maldives and one of conflict-ridden Libya’s competing governments also have joined them in cutting ties to Doha. Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers, a major recipient of Qatari aid, have called Saudi Arabia’s call for Qatar to cut ties with the Palestinian militant group “regrettable” and said it contradicts traditional Arab support for the Palestinian cause.
Hamas official Mushir al-Masri accused Saudi Arabia of siding with “American and Zionist calls to put Hamas on the terrorism list.” The strongly worded criticism of regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia was unusual for Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007. Late last night, the Jordanian government announced it was reducing its level of diplomatic representation in Qatar and cancelling the local registration for Al-Jazeera TV. And today, the African nation of Mauritania joined them. Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has said it remains in regular contact with Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup. Qatar just finished one of the stadiums for the tournament, though others have yet to be built. The Gulf countries have ordered their citizens out of Qatar and gave Qataris abroad 14 days to return home. The countries also said they would eject Qatar’s diplomats.
Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers, has suspended all flights to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain until further notice. It has increasingly been sending flights over Iran and Turkey to avoid Saudi and Egyptian airspace.