Kuwait’s Gulf mediation attempt could be a shot in the dark

Experts doubt whether the crisis can be resolved soon and say the ground is not yet ready for dialogue or mediation.
Tuesday 17/11/2020
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (2nd-R) meeting with Kuwaiti officials to offer his condolences over the late emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, in Kuwait City. (AFP)
Qatar’s ruler Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (2nd-R) meeting with Kuwaiti officials to offer his condolences over the late emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, in Kuwait City. (AFP)

KUWAIT CITY – In the era of newly appointed Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah and Crown Prince Sheikh Mishaal al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, Kuwait has shown it is intent on resuming mediation efforts between Qatar and four boycotting Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Qatar has been boycotted by the Arab quartet since June 2017, when the four countries severed diplomatic and trade links with Doha over its alleged backing of extremist groups and ties with Iran.

Experts doubt whether the crisis can be resolved soon and say the ground is not yet ready for dialogue or mediation.

Doha’s political inflexibility, they say, coupled with the Qatari commitment to the same course and policies that triggered the dispute, are making any potential breakthrough nearly impossible.

Doha’s policies, they say, particularly its alleged support for radical groups and terror organisations, are viewed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt as a threat to regional stability.

Though Kuwait’s good will is there to mediate the dispute, the country’s new ruling team does not have the capabilities of the late Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, nor his experience and personal attributes.

Since the beginning of the Gulf dispute, the late Qatari emir failed to achieve a breakthrough in the thorny mediation drive despite his internationally and regionally recognised stature as an excellent diplomat.

Kuwait’s acting Foreign Minister Ahmed Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah said that his country’s efforts to resolve the crisis with Qatar are continuing in line with the directives of the political leadership, which are to press ahead with the late emir’s efforts.

But the Kuwaiti minister’s statement raises questions as to why the new emir is optimistic continued mediation efforts could yield success.

If the new emir’s endeavour fails, it could have an adverse impact on the country’s new leadership, which is still searching for balance in how to rule during a difficult phase marked by a severe economic crisis caused by a decline in oil prices and the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.

This would mean severe political consequences that would give the opposition room to ramp up pressure on the ruling class, which is being blamed for the country’s economic crisis, widespread corruption and the squandering of state resources.

Kuwait’s announcement that it intends to resume mediation over the dispute with Qatar could be an attempt to find an effective regional role for the new emir emulating that of his predecessor.

Still, whether Kuwait actually resumes mediation efforts could hinge on the green light from Saudi Arabia, a close ally it often defers to on foreign policy matters.

Some observers argue that Kuwait could be encouraged to re-embark on its mediation drive because of a change of leadership in the US, which recently elected Democratic candidate Joe Biden to succeed incumbent President Donald Trump.

Over the last three years, Trump has left Gulf countries to resolve their rift among themselves. Some expect Biden to be more tolerant of Qatar and to seek its reintegration into the Arab and Gulf environment.

Qatar seems to be placing real hope on the incoming Biden administration, with Qatari media expressing enthusiasm about his victory over Trump.

The acting Kuwaiti foreign minister praised what he called the support of the United States and friendly and allied countries for Kuwaiti mediation, “a continuation of the efforts of the late emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad, to mend the Gulf rift.”

Qatar, however, has not amended its policies that triggered the dispute and which the Arab quartet says must change in order for the boycott to be lifted, analysts say.