DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar on Monday again dismissed demands by three fellow Gulf Arab states for changes to its foreign policy, calling its independence “non-negotiable” in a further sign that it will continue to aid Islamists such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.
In an unprecedented move within the Gulf Cooperation Council of allied hereditary monarchies, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar on March 5, accusing Doha of failing to abide by an accord not to interfere in each others’ internal affairs.
The three GCC states are especially angry at Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood, an Islamist movement whose ideology challenges the principle of conservative dynastic rule long dominant in the Gulf.
“Qatar is to take decisions, and follow a path, of its own,” the official Qatar news agency quoted Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah as saying in a speech in Paris.
“The independence of Qatar’s foreign policy is simply non-negotiable. Therefore I strongly believe that the recent statements made by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have no relationship whatsoever with the internal security of the GCC countries, but they are related to clear differences in views on international issues.”
A source close to Qatar’s government said last week the dispute had more to do with issues in the wider Middle East such as the crises in Egypt and Syria, than about matters affecting fellow Gulf states.
However, Saudi Arabia and the UAE do see Qatar as at odds with them on Gulf issues.
They resent the way Doha has sheltered prominent Brotherhood preacher Youssef al-Qaradawi, a critic of Saudi and UAE authorities, and given him regular air time on its pan-Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, and on Qatari state television.
Attiyah said one of Qatar’s basic foreign policy principles was its support for popular aspirations to justice and freedom in the Arab world. Islamists have figured prominently in the Arab Spring uprisings since 2011.
Qatar’s cabinet voiced “regret and surprise” last week at the withdrawal of the Saudi, UAE and Bahraini ambassadors but said Doha would not respond in kind and that it remained committed to GCC security.
The U.S.-aligned GCC, formed in 1981 and also including Kuwait and Oman, has managed to present a united front at times of threat ranging from Iranian revolution on the other side of the Gulf to Iraqi invasion.
Reporting by Amena Bakr, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich