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Gulf rift that set US allies at odds comes to end

A bitter three-year feud between Qatar and four other Arab nations ended Tuesday with Saudi Arabia announcing the restoration of relations with Doha.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties and transport links with Qatar in June 2017.

As the nations restore ties, here is a look back at a dispute that divided the region, setting key Western allies at odds:

– Ultimatum to Doha –

On May 24, 2017, a statement attributed to Qatar’s ruler appears on the state news agency’s website, apparently endorsing Islamist movements and criticising US President Donald Trump.

Qatar says the site has been hacked and that the statement is fake, but it is picked up and published in regional media.

On June 5, Saudi Arabia and its allies Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE abruptly cut all air links, land crossings, direct shipping and diplomatic ties with their neighbour.

A day later, Trump wades in and tweets that during his recent visit to the region, a number of Middle East leaders “pointed to Qatar” for allegedly supporting “radical ideology”.

Later that month, the Saudi-led coalition issues 13 sweeping demands, including the closure of the Doha-based Al Jazeera news network and the shuttering of a Turkish military base, in return for lifting their boycott.

They also demand Doha curb its relations with Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran.

Qatar rejects the demands, calling them “unrealistic” and “not actionable”.

The schism complicates regional travel, divides families and raises costs faced by Qatari businesses.

The anti-Doha alliance doubles down, issuing in late July 2017 a list of 18 allegedly extremist individuals and entities, while demanding Qatar take action against them. It later expands the list to 90 names.

– Game of two halves –

In August 2017, satellite channel beoutQ begins broadcasting events, including top-flight football, to Saudi audiences.

Qatar-based sporting broadcaster beIN accuses Saudi of pirating its production.

Throughout 2018, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates trade accusations over access to airspace, in a row that ends up at the International Court of Justice.

The following year sees the UAE host the Asian Cup soccer tournament. Qatar wins, but the stands are empty of the country’s fans, who have been barred from entering the UAE. One British attendee wearing Qatari colours is arrested.

Trump strikes a more conciliatory tone when Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, visits Washington in April 2019, calling him “a friend”.

Back on the football field, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain reverse a decision to boycott a regional tournament in Qatar, with Bahrain going on to lift the trophy on December 8, 2019.

As the tournament gets underway, Qatar’s foreign minister says there has been “some progress” in talks with Saudi Arabia.

More details emerge of mediation efforts by neutral Gulf nations Kuwait and Oman.

– ‘Doubts’ over GCC –

But in December 2019, Qatar’s emir declines an invitation by Saudi Arabia to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, instead sending then-prime minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thani.

In February 2020, Qatar’s foreign minister reveals that talks with Saudi Arabia were suspended a month earlier, but says Doha “remains open if there are any benign efforts to resolve the issue”.

In the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the rift, a flurry of posts aimed at Qatar surface on social media, including claims it is considering quitting the GCC.

On May 28, Qatar’s foreign ministry denies the claims to AFP, but warns that the people of the region are “doubting” the bloc because of its failure to remedy the diplomatic crisis.

– Setbacks for Saudi camp –

On June 16, a World Trade Organization panel rules that Riyadh failed to protect the intellectual property rights of Qatari broadcaster beIN by refusing to take action against pirate outfit beoutQ.

On July 14, the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice, finds in favour of Qatar in its complaint against the air blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies.

– Reopening of Saudi airspace –

On December 4, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud says a “final agreement looks in reach”.

Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani says “there are some movements that we hope will put an end (to) this crisis”.

On December 30, the GCC announces that King Salman has invited the Qatari emir to its summit in Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2021.

On January 4, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah announces on state TV that a deal has been agreed to “open the airspace and land and sea borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar, starting from this evening”.

The deal was based on a proposal by Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Sabah says.

On January 5, Saudi state media announces that de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim, after the pair publicly embraced at Al-Ula airport.

That evening, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister announces full ties have been restored between Qatar and the four nations.