Just 10 days after President Donald Trump called on Muslim countries to stand united against Iran, a public feud between Qatar and some of its Gulf Arab neighbours is jolting his attempt to tip the regional balance of power against Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are incensed by Qatar’s conciliatory line on Iran, their regional arch rival, and its support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.
The bickering among the Sunni states erupted after Trump attended a summit of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia where he denounced Shi’ite Iran’s “destabilizing interventions” in Arab lands, where Tehran is locked in a tussle with Riyadh for influence.
The spat shows no sign of abating, raising the prospect of a long breach between Doha and its closest allies that could have repercussions around the Middle East.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visits Kuwait on Wednesday for talks with his counterpart Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah that are expected to address the rift. Kuwait, a past mediator between Gulf States, has offered to help ease tensions.
But few expect an early end to what is not their first feud. Three years ago Saudi Arabia and the UAE withdrew their ambassadors from Doha for similar reasons, although they returned after less than a year.
Analysts point to the unusual willingness of Qatari state-backed media on one side, and Saudi and Emirati media on the other, to trade rhetorical broadsides in public.
This suggests that point-scoring is taking priority over displays of unity among some members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a Saudi-dominated club of states that presents itself as an outpost of stability in a turbulent region.
In the Gulf’s tightly-controlled media scene, attacks made by news outlets tend to be authorized by governments.
“The GCC could harm its own interests in this fight and is at risk of becoming more vulnerable to Iranian encroachment,” said a Western diplomat based in Doha.