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GCC states may agree that the self-anointed Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria) poses a clear threat to the region and its interests. But Saudi Arabia and its allies on one side, and Qatar on the other, back different horses in a number of regional conflicts; the recent aerial campaign against Islamist militias in Libya is but one piece of an increasingly complex regional puzzle.
The simplest explanation for the intra-GCC fracas is that Qatar backs political Islamists, generally, whereas the Saudi-led group opposes political Islamism across the region. This dynamic saw the Saudi, UAE and Kuwait-backed Egyptian army remove the Qatar-backed Muslim Brotherhood government last summer. A similar tug-of-war plays out across the region: in Gaza, Qatar supports Muslim Brotherhood-affiliate, Hamas; Saudi Arabia, while it would never openly back Israel, is quite happy to see Hamas bashed. Most recently, the intra-GCC conflict has has taken on a new dimension: US reports initially indicated that the UAE and Egypt were coordinating airstrikes on Qatar-backed Islamists in Libya; however, the US Department of State, which had directly attributed the bombings to UAE jets, later said that earlier comments only “refer[ed] to countries reportedly involved.” Egypt has denied involvement; the UAE, whilst more equivocal, has not directly accepted responsibility.
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