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A crisis blew up in June 2017 between a group of Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Qatar on the other, with its roots in the independent foreign policy pursued by Qatar over recent years. Qatar has traditionally taken a much more positive line towards political Islam than neighbouring monarchies, which tend to see it as a threat to their legitimacy.

Qatar’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood go back some time, but became much more significant with the Arab uprisings of 2011, when it looked as if the Islamists might be the force of the future. Saudi Arabia, though, and particularly the United Arab Emirates, were intransigent, associating political Islam with terrorism. They accused Qatar of supporting terrorist groups. In June 2017, after the visit to Saudi Arabia by President Trump, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a blockade on Qatar, and expelled Qataris from their countries. They demanded an end to support for terrorist groups, the closure of the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera, and for Qatar’s foreign policy to fall in line with the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The US at first indicated support for the moves against Qatar, but later became more cautious; disunity among members of the GCC could bring more disorder to the Middle East.

The UK, which receives a significant proportion of its imported gas from Qatar, supports the mediation efforts by Kuwait.

Some commentators have argued that the row could threaten the future of the GCC, but there are differences in approach between Saudi Arabia and the UAE that may take the heat out to the dispute.

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