Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar on Wednesday in an unprecedented split between the Persian Gulf Arab allies who have fallen out over political turmoil shaking the Middle East, Reuters reported.
Qatar's cabinet voiced “regret and surprise” at the decision by Persian Gulf Cooperation Council counterparts but said Doha would not pull out its own envoys in response and that it remained committed to “the security and stability” of the PGCC.
The move escalated an internal power struggle over foreign policy in the PGCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman, and represents a significant challenge for Qatar's young ruler months after he took power.
A pro-Western alliance of absolute monarchies, the PGCC was set up in the 1980s and includes several of the world's biggest oil and gas producers and exporters.
Saudi Arabia, the biggest PGCC state by population, size and economy, has grown increasingly frustrated over recent years at the efforts of Qatar, a country of just 2 million, to leverage its large wealth from gas exports into regional clout.
Qatar's stock market tumbled 2.3 percent after Wednesday's announcement. There is significant cross-border investment in the stock markets of PGCC countries by investors from other PGCC nations; Saudi investors play a major role in all PGCC markets.
The statement follows two years of efforts by Saudi Arabia to build a closer union between the PGCC countries on foreign and security policy in an effort to cement a united front against what it sees as Iranian aggression.
However, Persian Gulf analysts and diplomats say it is too early to cast doubts on the ability of the PGCC to hold together, pointing towards previous disagreements between member states that were later settled. Many PGCC members have decades-old border disputes with each other, but efforts to resolve them are normally pursued without any apparent acrimony.
Qatar has been a maverick in the conservative region of royal dynasties, backing hard line movements in Egypt, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that are viewed with suspicion or outright hostility by some fellow PGCC members.
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