THE Bishop in Cyprus & the Gulf, the Rt Revd Michael Lewis, has urged Arab nations to resolve their disagreements and end the blockade of Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt all cut ties with the tiny gulf peninsula state of Qatar last week, banning flights between the countries, expelling Qatari citizens, and closing borders to food and other goods to Qatar.
Yemen, the Maldives, and one of the competing governments in Libya have subsequently joined the blockade.
The countries accuse Qatar, a fellow Sunni Islamic nation, of funding extremist terror groups in the Middle East, including Islamic State. Qatar’s leaders have denied the claims.
Analysts have suggested that the row is the culmination of simmering disputes between Gulf nations about Qatar’s foreign policy, and in particular its increasingly friendly overtures towards the Shia Islamic state of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.
Bishop Lewis, whose diocese covers Anglican chaplaincies across the Gulf states, said in a statement last week that the “sudden and largely unprecedented actions” taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar had caused real concern.
The closing of their airspace to Qatar Airways was one major effect, he warned, and also suggested that the ostensible reasons for the blockade were not “the only factors in play”.
“But Arab nations have historically been able to negotiate disagreements on reflection, with due deliberation, and over the course of time, and our prayer is that intense professional diplomacy that will go behind and beyond fervent rhetoric will bear fruit,” he said.
“Other world nations, not least the most powerful, bear a responsibility to aid such diplomacy. I ask all people of good will to pray thoughtfully and intelligently for the resolution of the situation for the common good and for the peace of the region and the world.”
About 40 per cent of Qatar’s food comes through its land border with Saudi Arabia, which is now shut, causing fears of shortages in the shops of the tiny peninsula nation which is totally reliant on imports.
The Anglican Centre in Qatar, run by Bishop Lewis’s diocese, also hosts about 80 of Qatar’s Christian congregations. It was built in 2005 on land leased by the Emir of Qatar with his permission as the first site of Christian worship in the nation since the seventh century. Nobody at the Centre responded to requests for comment this week.