DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain said Wednesday they have recalled their ambassadors from Qatar in the clearest move yet underscoring their apparent displeasure over Doha's support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt and elsewhere the region.
The three Gulf Arab states made the announcement in a joint statement on state media, saying Qatar had breached a regional security deal. They said the move was made to protect their security.
Tensions between the three and Doha intensified following the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Arab Spring protests in early 2011. Mubarak was long seen as a reliable Saudi ally and one whose disdain for Islamist groups was in line with the kingdom's own.
Qatar's massive financial and public support for Mubarak's successor, President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood, stood at odds with UAE and Saudi policies — as did its condemnation of Morsi's ouster last July by the Egyptian military, following days of massive protests in Cairo against the Islamist president.
At home, both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have cracked down on Islamist groups with links to the Brotherhood, which they see as a threat to their ruling systems. They are both staunch supporters of Egypt's new military-backed government, which subsequently launched sweeping crackdowns on Morsi and his Brotherhood supporters.
The joint Gulf statement said Qatar's ruler Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani failed to uphold a security agreement that he signed in late November in Saudi Arabia. The emir of Kuwait was a witness to the meeting in Riyadh and the agreement was endorsed by other members in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
The agreement called on all GCC members not to interfere, "whether directly or indirectly" in another member nation's internal affairs. It also stipulated that GCC countries would not support organizations or individuals that threaten the security and stability of Arabian Peninsula countries "either through direct security work or by attempting to influence politics."
The language appeared to have been shorthand for support for the Brotherhood and Qatar's funding of the Doha-based pan-Arab Al-Jazeera network.
However, three months after signing the agreement, no action was taken by Qatar despite "great efforts" by the Gulf Arab nations to reach out to Doha's leadership to fulfill its side of the deal, said the Saudi-UAE-Bahrain statement.
Details of the November agreement were not made public until Wednesday.
Saudi analyst Anwar Edshki said the decision was a warning to Qatar to stop inciting violence by Islamists in Egypt.
"It is Qatar's right to support the Muslim Brotherhood, but not its right to threaten security in Egypt and incite the (people on the) street," he said.
Edshki, who chairs the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies in Saudi Arabia, said Qatar's policies have created chaos in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Egypt. However, what particularly disturbed Saudi Arabia and the UAE more recently was how Qatar allowed Islamic cleric Youssef el-Qaradawi to continue attacking the policies of these countries publicly.
The withdrawal of ambassadors from Qatar came after a meeting Tuesday in Riyadh of GCC foreign ministers that tried to "persuade" Qatar to keep up its end of the deal.
"However, all these efforts have not resulted, with great regret, in the consent of the State of Qatar to adhere to these procedures," the statement said. "So the three countries have to start taking whatever they deem appropriate to protect their security and stability by withdrawing their ambassadors from the State of Qatar, as of today."
Though Wednesday's announcement was unprecedented for the region, last month the UAE signaled it was losing patience with Qatar when it summoned Doha's ambassador to formally protest the comments of the outspoken pro-Brotherhood el-Qaradawi who criticized the Gulf country's policies toward Islamist groups on Qatari TV.
The Emirati leadership said Qatar should stop the Egyptian-born cleric from expressing comments critical of the UAE.
Even though the UAE was part of Wednesday's three-state announcement, its ambassador to Qatar has not been present in Doha for several months.