Internal disputes inside the Gulf Cooperation Council have bubbled beneath the surface for some time – the Syrian Civil War has brought them to the surface. The current crisis, which sees Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates removing their ambassadors from Qatar, is merely the latest manifestation of a greater rivalry being played out across the Middle East and is not limited to concerns over Syria only.
Though Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been competing for influence among the rebel groups that are fighting Bashar al-Assad (and each other), the real struggle is one between absolutism and Islamism, the two foreign policy models of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, respectively. Qatar has long been the primary financial backer of the Muslim Brotherhood in its various forms, while Saudi Arabia has set itself up as the stalwart supporter of anti-Brotherhood regimes, particularly that of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt.
Neither Saudi Arabia nor Qatar are constrained politically or financially in their regional brinksmanship. Going forward, the ideological and policy territory being staked out by both sides will have incredibly disruptive effects, particularly in the Arabian Gulf, Syria, and Egypt.