The Maldives has severed diplomatic relations with Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt and four other Arab countries cut ties with the oil-rich Gulf state amid a growing diplomatic crisis.
The Maldives foreign ministry claimed in a brief statement that the government “took the decision because of its firm opposition to activities that encourage terrorism and extremism.”
It added that the Maldives has “always pursued a policy of promoting peace and stability in the Middle East” and reiterated “commitment to work with countries that promote peace, stability, and show solidarity in the fight against terrorism.”
The announcement came shortly after Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties and closed its borders with Qatar, accusing its Gulf neighbour of destabilising the region by supporting militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda as well as “Iranian-backed terrorist groups” in restive regions of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The Maldives also severed ties with Iran in May last year, joining other Sunni Muslim countries that took diplomatic action after Saudi Arabia cut ties with its Shia-majority regional rival.
After Bahrain and Saudi Arabia announced the diplomatic withdrawal Monday morning, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates followed suit. Qatari visitors and residents have reportedly been given two weeks to leave Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.
Qatar’s foreign ministry called the decisions by its Arab neighbours “unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions” and part of a “hidden plan to undermine the State of Qatar.”
“Their purpose is clearly the imposition of guardianship over Qatar, which is in itself a violation of its sovereignty, and is rejected outright,” reads a statement posted by the Qatari foreign ministry.
UAE-based carriers Emirates, Etihad Airways and FlyDubai along with Saudia meanwhile announced the suspension of flights to the Qatari capital Doha. The Gulf allies also closed airspace to Qatar Airways, which has suspended flights to Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of tourists fly to the Maldives from the Qatari national carrier annually. An official from the Qatar Airways office in the Velana International Airport told the Maldives Independent that the airline’s flights to the Maldives will not be affected.
Some 3,716 Qatari tourists also visited the Maldives in 2016.
The Maldives established diplomatic relations with Qatar on May 26, 1984. The Qatari government funded the construction of a school in Laamu atoll in 1998 and donated US$469,471 worth of tsunami aid in 2005.
The Emir of Qatar and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom met on several occasions.
The present non-resident ambassador Qatar, Rashid Shafea Saeed Shafea Al Fahaida Al Marri, presented his credential to President Abdulla Yameen in January 2015.
According to the Qatari foreign ministry, the Ambassador met with Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim on Sunday and “reviewed bilateral relations and ways to develop them, in addition to a number of topics of common interest.”
Local telecommunications company Ooredoo Maldives is also a subsidiary of the Doha-based Ooredoo Group.
In October, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Mohamed Bin Saud Al Thani, Chairman of Ooredoo Board of Directors, and CEO of Ooredoo Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani paid a courtesy call on Vice President Abdulla Jihad.
According to the president’s office, Jihad “expressed his hopes to bring more investors from Qatar to develop the Maldivian economy.”
Since assuming office in November 2013, President Yameen has fostered closer ties with Saudi Arabia and China. During his second official visit to the kingdom in October, the Saudi government pledged to lend US$150 million to help repay loans taken for the current administration’s ambitious infrastructure scale-up programme.
The Maldives is also among 34 countries that joined a Saudi-led Islamic military alliance formed to combat terrorist organisations.
In November 2015, Saudi Arabia and Maldives penned an agreement hailed as a “religious bridge” to maintain religious unity. Islamic Minister Dr Ahmed Ziyad said at the time that the Saudis will help maintain the Maldives’ 100 percent Muslim status.