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New twist in Doha dispute as Saudi reach out to Qatar ruling family rival


MANAMA: Doha is nervously assessing the impact of a recent Saudi outreach to a rival branch of Qatar’s ruling family, sources said yesterday.

Saudi Arabia last week opened its borders to Haj pilgrims from Qatar following a meeting between Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali Al Thani in the Moroccan city of Tangier.

Qatar fears the Saudi monarch’s welcome of Shaikh Abdullah could be an implicit withdrawal of Riyadh’s recognition of its current rulers, our sister paper Akhbar Al Khaleej quoted them as saying.

Qatar will thus encompass three forces – the people, the Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali branch of the Al Thani family and the branch led by the father of the current Amir, Shaikh Hamad bin Khalifa, the sources said.

This would grant the Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali branch of the family regional legitimacy, they pointed out.

The rulers in Qatar are worried about attempts to transform Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali into the main point of contact between Saudi Arabia and the Qatari people, especially if the other three states of the Arab quartet that have taken action against Doha for its support for terrorism, follow suit.

Observers pointed out that it is likely that Shaikh Abdullah bin Ali could be received in the capitals of the other three countries, as a reflection of a “popular diplomacy” gradually taking shape in Qatar, the report added.

Qatar tried to politicise the Haj but did not expect a Saudi move to build regional legitimacy for an acceptable and widely respected competing branch of the Al Thani family, the sources claimed.

“The Haj issue which Qatar wanted to use to score political gains, has turned against it and opened the door for the possibility of defusing the crisis through the intervention of another branch of the ruling family in Qatar to normalise the deteriorating relations with the other GCC states.”

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