Qatar isolates itself amid intra-Gulf tensions

“The political crisis will end when the cause behind it ends and that is Qatar’s support of extremism and its interference in the stability of the region.” - UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash.
Sunday 09/12/2018
Political manoeuvre. Qatari Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi speaks prior to the start of an OPEC meeting in Vienna, December 6. (AP)
Political manoeuvre. Qatari Minister of State for Energy Affairs Saad al-Kaabi speaks prior to the start of an OPEC meeting in Vienna, December 6. (AP)

DUBAI - Hopes that Qatar would seize a newfound opportunity to resolve its dispute with Arab neighbours quickly faded after Doha announced it was withdrawing from OPEC, a move seen as aimed at provoking Saudi Arabia, the organisation’s top exporter.

The unexpected announcement, two days ahead of a key December OPEC meeting, was met with collective dismay in the Gulf region and drew warnings that Qatar could face retaliation from other oil-producing members.

Omani Oil Minister Mohammed al-Rumhi, a member of OPEC’s market monitoring committee, said the move by Qatar, which has been an OPEC member since 1961 and is to be the host of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) next year, had further isolated the country and risked regional blowback.

“A number of countries could pull out [of the GECF] because of Qatar’s position,” said Rumhi: “I can tell you for sure the UAE will pull out of that organisation. I don’t think [the UAE] will continue and who knows [with] other countries like Algeria that are members of OPEC.”

While not a member of OPEC, Oman is part of the Russia-led group of non-OPEC producers party to a production-cut agreement that has been in place for nearly two years. Oman is also a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The timing of Qatar’s announcement suggests it was aimed at disrupting the OPEC gathering and send a hostile message to Riyadh ahead of a GCC summit it is to host December 9. Many hoped that meeting would end the 18-month dispute between Qatar and the “Arab Quartet” — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

In June 2017, the quartet imposed a diplomatic boycott on Qatar over its alleged support of extremism and ties to Iran. Doha has refused the boycotting countries’ conditions to restore ties, initiated a media campaign against them and restored full relations with Tehran, seen as a principal threat to Arab states.

Ahead of the GCC summit there were indications that the dispute might end. Qatar’s OPEC announcement, however, indicated that the chasm between the two sides was widening and raised questions as to whether Doha could ever return to the Arab fold.

“I do not know how Qatar will return,” said Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, describing the dispute as “unprecedented and very deep.” “It has committed to the enemies of the region, such as Iran, and separated itself from the GCC,” he said.

“We are realistic in dealing with this issue and we don’t want to waste more time,” Sheikh Khalid added.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash derided Qatar’s decision to exit OPEC as a “political” manoeuvre aimed at recovering its dwindling power in the region.

“The political dimension of Qatar’s decision to withdraw from OPEC is an acknowledgment of its declining role and influence in view of its political isolation,” Gargash tweeted on December 3.

“The economic part of the withdrawal is less important and does not justify the decision at this time,” he added, a rebuke to Qatari claims that the country’s pull-out was due to economic considerations.

On December 6, he said the GCC would forge ahead despite the crisis with Qatar.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council carries on despite the Qatari crisis,” Gargash tweeted. “The main success of the council is in its economic agenda and the creation of a Gulf common market.”

He added: “The political crisis will end when the cause behind it ends and that is Qatar’s support of extremism and its interference in the stability of the region.”

The dispute with Qatar is not the region’s first. In 2014, the four countries recalled their ambassadors from Doha over Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which they said had undermined regional security.

That crisis was resolved after eight months in an emergency meeting in Riyadh, with the countries agreeing to turn a new page.

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