DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar found itself on the defensive once again Thursday as more Arab nations blocked access to websites of its flagship Al-Jazeera news network, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast visit positioned America squarely with Sunni Arab countries against Shiite power Iran.
Bahrain and Egypt joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in blocking the websites, the latest development in a regional crisis sparked by what Qatar described as hackers publishing fake comments on Iran and other issues via its state-run news agency this week.
While Trump’s visit reassured a six-nation Saudi-led Gulf alliance of its regional standing, tiny, energy-rich Qatar has found itself on the fringes of the Western-backed alliance as the hack rekindled long-standing suspicions over its support of Islamists. Qatar’s woes could signal more unsettled weeks ahead as newly emboldened Gulf rulers translate Trump’s support into action.
“Trump’s approach will complicate any admittedly remote chance of a Saudi-Iranian detente,” warned Ayham Kamel, the Mideast and North Africa director of the Eurasia Group. “Even before Trump, the Saudis hand embarked on a harsh policy toward Iran — the new U.S. administration will only increase their confidence on this issue.”
Trump’s visit to the kingdom included a staggering $110 billion dollar Saudi defense purchase and a summit of heads of state from Muslim-majority nations — an event to which Iran received no invitation.
Qatar’s ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was among several regional leaders to have one-on-one talks with Trump during his Saudi visit. Trump referred to Qatar, which hosts the U.S. Central Command and some 10,000 American troops, as a “crucial strategic partner.”
However, the peninsular nation’s relations with its neighbors were thrown into chaos this week after Qatari authorities say its state-run news agency was hacked. Officials say hackers published a fake story…