Qatar sends negative signals ahead of upcoming GCC summit

Doha downgraded its representation at a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the GCC countries, held in the Bahraini capital Manama ahead of a regional summit next month.
Monday 28/12/2020
A file picture shows the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) logo on display during a meeting in Manama, Bahrain. (AFP)
A file picture shows the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) logo on display during a meeting in Manama, Bahrain. (AFP)

MANAMA--A preparatory meeting for the 41st Gulf summit carried negative signals about the possibility of achieving progress towards ending Qatar’s dispute with three boycotting Gulf neighbours.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, accuse Qatar of threatening regional stability and supporting extremism through Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Doha denies the accusations and says the boycott aims to undermine its sovereignty.

Qatar on Sunday downgraded its representation in a virtual meeting of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, held in the Bahraini capital Manama ahead of a regional summit next month.

Gulf affairs analysts said they believe Qatar’s move is a prelude to downgrading the level of its participation in the upcoming Gulf summit.

While the Manama meeting was attended by the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani was absent, and Doha was represented by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan al-Muraikhi.

Qatar also deliberately maintained the tense atmosphere during the Manama meeting by pressing ahead with its negative media coverage and offensive reports about the four boycotting countries.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed their relations with Qatar in June 2017 and prevented it from using their airspace, accusing Doha of funding extremist Islamist movements and bolstering ties with Iran at the expense of Arab national security.

The four countries have recently shown readiness to resolve the dispute after a mediation drive led by Kuwait’s leaders, Oman and the administration of outgoing US President Donald Trump.

Saudi Arabia was spearheading the efforts to reconcile Qatar with its neighbours, while Doha seemed more interested in reconciling only with the kingdom, raising questions about whether Qatar was merely seeking a Saudi-Qatari bilateral agreement.

Qatar was apparently emboldened by positive signs that Riyadh had shown to Ankara, Doha’s strategic ally.

GCC leaders will meet in Saudi Arabia on January 5, and the presence of the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani would be an indication of rapprochement.

During the virtual summit on Sunday, the GCC addressed “suggestions on supporting and strengthening joint Gulf cooperation in various political, economic and social aspects,” according to a statement by Kuwait’s foreign ministry.

This comes after Manama called for an “end to regional disputes” on Wednesday, softening its rhetoric on the Gulf crisis.

On Sunday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdellatif al-Zayani expressed confidence “in Saudi Arabia’s ability to find a solution to the dispute within the Gulf.”

Zayani added during the meeting that his country hoped for a return to normalcy in the region, according to Bahraini media.

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal previously said that his country’s allies are on the same page with Riyadh when it comes to resolving the dispute and that a final agreement is expected soon.

The UAE and Egypt later expressed their support for the efforts to resolve the dispute with Qatar. However, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain were more reserved about the mediation efforts.

Qatar’s recent moves, however, indicate that Doha may not be serious about ending the dispute, and could simply be buying time and counting on shifting regional and international dynamics to strengthen its position in any future negotiations with the four boycotting countries.