DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates summoned the Qatari ambassador over what it called insults against the UAE made by an influential Sunni Muslim cleric in a broadcast from Doha, state news agency WAM reported on Sunday.
The incident reflects deepening splits between the two members of the Western-allied Gulf Cooperation Council in their approach to Islamists emboldened by the 2011 "Arab Spring" protests that toppled four autocratic heads of state.
Qatar has sided with Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood but the UAE has done the opposite, cracking down on Islamists at home and supporting Egypt's military-backed administration that overthrew an elected Islamist president.
The UAE news agency WAM said the foreign ministry had handed the Qatari ambassador "an official protest memorandum over the insolence shown by the so-called Youssef al-Qaradawi towards the United Arab Emirates".
In a sermon two weeks ago delivered at a mosque in the Qatari capital Doha and broadcast by state television, the Egyptian-born Qaradawi condemned the UAE as a country that was against Islamic rule, according to UAE media.
"We have waited for our neighbor to express a clear rejection of this insolence and to offer sufficient clarifications and assurances for this misrepresentation and incitement against the UAE," WAM quoted UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash as saying.
"But unfortunately, and despite the self-restraint and calm approach, we found no desire or response for such a thing from the brothers in Qatar.
"It is shameful that we allow Al Qaradawi to continue his insults of the UAE and the ties (that bind) the peoples of the Arabian Gulf," Gargash said on Twitter.
In support of the UAE stance, Abdullatif al-Zayani, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, denounced Qaradawi's statements as "unacceptable incitement and (containing) false accusations that incite sedition", according to a WAM report on Monday.
PLAYING DOWN RIFT
WAM later carried comments by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, part of the UAE, apparently aimed at playing down the magnitude of the rift between the two Gulf countries.
"There are no disagreements between the brothers in the UAE and Qatar," WAM quoted Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan as saying. It further quoted Sheikh Mohammed as saying he had a "special relationship" with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and had "great confidence ... that he would see that Qatar's interest is in line with the GCC's".
A source close to the Qatari foreign ministry told Reuters that Qatar could not be held responsible for the views of an individual and suggested that Doha would continue to grant people like Qaradawi the right to express themselves.
UAE media had earlier quoted Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah as saying that Qaradawi's comments did not reflect Doha's official position.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and to a lesser extent Kuwait, have long distrusted Islamist groups, especially after the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia's al-Saud ruling family in particular has long seen Islamist groups as the biggest threat to its rule.
Bahrain has grappled with Shi'ite Muslim protests since 2011 but other Gulf states have largely avoided serious unrest thanks to security crackdowns and lavish social spending.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi, Amena Bakr and Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)