Already strained relations between Qatar and one its Gulf neighbors took a turn for the worse this week when Bahrain accused officials in Doha of compromising its security by nationalizing some of its citizens.
Earlier this week, the Bahrain News Agency quoted Shaikh Rashid bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, Undersecretary of Nationality, Passport and Residence Affairs (NPRA), as saying:
“Qatar has targeted specific families and singled out a particular category of people without any consideration for the provisions of the law on citizenship in Bahrain. The naturalisation of Bahrainis would affect Bahrain’s national security and vital interests negatively.”
Sheikh Rashid did not elaborate on which category Qatar is allegedly targeting, or how many people have been granted citizenship.
But media reports have suggested that Sunni Bahraini Muslims are in Qatar’s sights. According to Reuters, Bahrain is sensitive about its demographic balance because it is ruled by a Sunni minority and has been embroiled in conflict with its Shia Muslim majority lately.
Speaking to Doha News, Dr. Najeeb Al-Nauimi, former justice minister of Qatar, confirmed that the country has been granting citizenship to more Bahrainis recently. He continued:
“Qatar has been doing this for some time, but Qatar has recently upped its efforts in nationalizing Bahrainis. Before, people had to move to Qatar, drop their Bahraini citizenship and then live in Qatar for three years before being granted Qatari citizenship, but now decisions are being made in just 24 hours.
In one day people can change their nationality from Bahraini to Qatari, and there’s discrimination going on (over who is given citizenship).”
In response to the move, officials in Bahrain have warned citizens against accepting offers from Qatar, citing the Bahrain nationality law of 1963. Recent amendments to the law regulate the obtaining of foreign nationalities and specify penalties for breaking the law.
But according to Al-Nauimi, Qatar is not the only country that should be watched:
“Qatar is nationalizing Bahrainis and Bahrain is nationalizing other Arabs. A number of people currently with Bahraini citizenship are originally from Qatar who relocated there centuries ago. We know through surnames who traces back to Qatari roots. Qatar wants to return original Qatari families back to the country – those who emigrated to the neighboring country a long time ago.”
Qatar’s relations with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been tense in recent months. In March, the three countries recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, accusing Doha of failing to honor an agreement to not interfere with each other’s internal affairs.
Although there have been efforts by the four to reconnect and form a united GCC front, none of the ambassadors have returned to Doha yet.
To mitigate the tensions, Al-Nuaimi said concessions must be made on all sides:
“Qatar’s meddling in Bahrain right now is going to worsen the situation. Qatar isn’t accommodating to GCC agreements. The only way to solve the situation is by holding direct meetings with Kuwait and involving Oman too. They are our only hope for helping us to unite as a GCC. There needs to be another honor agreement made and all countries must apologize through the media and calm down.
Saudi, the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain have all done things they shouldn’t have. It needs to be sorted now because the politics of it all is having a relaying affect on GCC citizens. There’s social tension there now and that’s not what any of us want.”