Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani has called for the expansion of relations with on Oman in a move apparently meant to undermine Saudi Arabia’s efforts to dominate the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council and exercise greater influence in the Arab world.
In a phone call made by the Qatari ruler to Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said on Thursday, the two influential Arab rulers reviewed means of boosting and developing ties in addition to the latest regional developments.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recalled their envoys from Doha this week in what many said was a response to Qatar's support for the Muslim Brotherhood of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown by the military in July.
Egypt has welcomed the decision of the three Persian Gulf states to withdraw their envoys to Qatar and said its own ambassador "will not return" to the emirate.
"The Egyptian ambassador to Doha, who has been in Cairo since the beginning of February, will not return to Qatar at the present time, and his remaining (in Egypt) is a sovereign political decision," the government said, according to AFP.
Relations between Egypt and Qatar have deteriorated as Cairo has carried out a sweeping crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, which it has labeled a terrorist organization and blamed for a spate of bombings and other attacks.
The Brotherhood, which renounced violence decades ago, has denied any involvement.
Riyadh puts Muslim Brotherhood, 4 other groups on terrorist list
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia on Friday listed the Muslim Brotherhood and two Syrian groups as terrorist organizations and ordered citizens fighting abroad to return within 15 days or face imprisonment, state TV reported.
The latest move represents a major escalation against the Muslim Brotherhood and indicates rising concern in Riyadh over the possible return of battle-hardened Saudi extremists from Syria.
In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudis listed the Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda's official Syrian affiliate, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), a rogue group fighting in both Syria and Iraq, as terrorist organizations.
It also listed as terrorist groups the Shia Huthi rebels fighting in northern Yemen and a little-known internal Shia group called Hezbollah in the Hijaz.
The breach between Qatar and some of its neighbors is a pivotal test for the 3-decade-old Persian Gulf Cooperation Council, which is commonly known as a union of old monarchies.
Born more out of fear, the PGCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, has managed to present a united front at different times. But plans for a customs union, integrated power grids, and a joint military command remain unfinished or unrealized.
Critics of the PGCC blame its inadequacies on petty jealousies, border disputes, or the perceived dominance of its biggest member, Saudi Arabia.
If the allies can no longer reach broad agreement on how to navigate the political troubles afflicting the region, then the main point of their partnership is in question, analysts say.
For Saudi Arabia in particular, the disunity is a source of frustration. Riyadh has pushed hard since late 2011 for the PGCC to forge a closer union on a shared foreign and security policy.
But in December, Oman said outright it did not want to be part of such a union, apparently because the idea would harm the friendly relations between Oman and Iran.
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