UAE ambassador claims to 'back secularism' in Middle East as report emerges he wooed Taliban
The United Arab Emirates' ambassador to Washington has come under fire for saying a Saudi-led bloc boycotting Qatar want to see secularism take rise in the Middle East, as reports emerged that he lobbied to host an embassy for the Taliban.
Yousef al-Otaiba said in an interview last week with US broadcaster PBS that the bloc wanted "more secular, stable" governments in the region, an order he claimed Qatar "fundamentally opposed".
On June 5, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing extremism and building ties with their rival Iran - Doha has categorically denied the claims.
"If you ask UAE, Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain what kind of Middle East they want to see ten years from now it will be fundamentally opposed to what Qatar wants to see," Otaiba said.
"What we would like to see is more secular, stable, prosperous, empowered, strong governments."
He accused Doha of backing the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamist militants in Syria and Libya and the Taliban.
The top diplomat's comments on Riyadh supporting a non-religious future for the Middle East were met with outrage by Saudi social media users and several members of the kingdom's royal family.
"There is a conspiracy against Saudi Arabia and Islam and this has become clear to the world," tweeted Fahda bint Saud bin Abdulaziz, the daughter of the late King Saud bin Abdulaziz, using an Arabic-language hashtag meaning "Otaiba, anything but our religion".
The princess added that calls to secularise the "land of the two holy mosques" were unacceptable, calling on Saudi authorities to respond to the comments.
Saudi Arabia implements Sharia law and opposes the separation of religion and the state.
Days after Otaiba accused Doha of backing the Taliban, reports emerged that he had attempted to get the Afghan militant group to open an embassy in Abu Dhabi rather than Qatar.
The New York Times reported on Monday that the UAE lobbied US officials to be able to host an office for the Taliban, according to a series of leaked emails from Otaiba.
The correspondence revealed that the Emirati ambassador had received an "angry call" from the UAE's foreign minister, complaining that the Taliban had ended up in Qatar and not in his country.
The UAE has often cited the 2013 opening of a Taliban embassy in Doha as an example of Qatar abetting Islamist militants.