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Why Saudi Arabia and Friends Fell Out With Qatar

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In 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and transportation links with Qatar, kicking off a regional squabble with broad geopolitical implications. The dispute split the energy-producing region as well as complicating U.S. efforts to isolate Iran. The U.S. push for a resolution showed signs of success at the start of 2021, when the Saudis reopened their land, air and sea borders with Qatar.

The crisis was sparked in 2017 when hackers published a story on Qatar’s news agency quoting Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani as criticizing mounting anti-Iran sentiment after a trip to the region by U.S. President Donald Trump. Qatari officials quickly deleted the comments, called the FBI to help investigate the hack, and appealed for calm as Saudi and UAE newspapers and clerics accused Qatar of trying to undermine efforts to isolate Iran. On June 5 that year, the Saudi- and UAE-led bloc cut diplomatic ties with Qatar. At the time, there were expectations that the rulers would resolve the spat quietly among themselves, as they did a similar dispute three years earlier. Instead, the group issued tough demands, Qatar refused to bend, and the breach hardened.