Qatar turns deaf ears to GCC calls
RIYADH - Qatar responded to Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz’s demand to preserve and protect the integrity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and to the Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad’s call for a media truce with an intensive media escalation against the 39th GCC summit held in Riyadh on Sunday.
In his summit opening speech at Diriyah Palace in Riyadh, the Saudi Monarch said: "The Gulf Cooperation Council was founded to strengthen security, stability and development (…) I am confident that we are all keen to preserve this entity and strengthen its role in the present and future."
The Emir of Kuwait said in his speech: "Perhaps the most serious among the challenges we are facing is the dispute that has plagued our Gulf entity and its continuation." Sheikh Sabah called for a halt of the media campaigns between the boycotting countries and Doha, out of "keenness to preserve the unity of the Gulf position and end the deterioration of this unity, in order to deter an unknown future for the Gulf cooperation.”
The Riyadh summit comes amid an ongoing Gulf crisis since mid-2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt decided to sever ties with Qatar. The four countries have also imposed "punitive measures" on Qatar, accusing it of "supporting terrorism." For its part, Doha denies the charges and accuses the Quartet of seeking to "impose tutelage on Qatari decisions."
At the Riyadh summit, Sheikh Sabah emphasized the seriousness of the situation by saying: "We face a serious threat to the unity of our position and to the interests of the people of our countries. The world, unfortunately, is starting to look at us as an entity that is beginning to waver and that its interests no longer enjoy the guarantees that our unity and cohesion had provided."
According to experts, Qatar's reactions confirm its intent to pursue policies that differ from the historical course of actions and positions of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Doha’s attitude indicates a move towards escalation of hostility against all of the GCC member countries.
Despite the Kuwaiti call at the summit for a media truce between the GCC countries, Qatari media continued its media attacks on Saudi Arabia, the host of the summit, accusing it of seeking to impose its "hegemony on the region".
Qatar-owned Al-Jazeera TV channel hosted a number of speakers, some of whom, especially the Kuwaiti guests, were embarrassed by the hosts’ provocative questions.
Gulf sources said that the Qatari media escalation, despite Sheikh Sabah’s call for a truce, is not accidental but rather the result of systematic and premeditated behaviour aimed at undermining the GCC, which represents the only successful experience at a regional grouping in the Arab world.
The Emir of Kuwait stressed the importance of "putting an end to the media campaigns that have reached the limits of moral decency and principles and planted the seeds of strife and discord among Gulf citizens, threatening to destroy everything that we have built together.”
"We are confident, dear brothers, that you share with me the importance of responding to this call to stop media campaigns, which will constitute an invitation for us all and an introduction to create an atmosphere that will inevitably lead to enhanced opportunities for us to contain the effects of our current conflict,” added Sheikh Sabah.
The Riyadh summit was attended by Bahrain's King Hamad Bin Isa, Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates, and Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister of Oman, while the Qatari delegation was headed by the Qatari State Minister for Foreign Affairs Sultan Al-Merikhi.
A US State Department official urged Gulf states to resolve differences to clear the way for a proposed security alliance in the Middle East that would include the Gulf Cooperation Council members plus Egypt and Jordan.
Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs, told reporters at a security forum in Abu Dhabi on Sunday: "We want unity to be restored, not on our terms but on the terms of the countries concerned."
While the states boycotting Qatar have stated that the dispute with Doha is not currently a priority and the GCC was still active and effective, Doha said that the dispute has damaged regional security by weakening the GCC.
Gulf affairs experts se Qatar as seeking to disrupt the GCC to serve the interests of foreign agendas, especially those of Iran and Turkey. This is part of Doha’s long-term resistance to the dynamics of the GCC and of its efforts in recent decades to open breaches through which all GCC countries could be threatened.
Saudi Minister of Information Awad Bin Saleh Al-Awad said that the Gulf Summit carries messages and implications that go beyond the Gulf states and touch the Arab region and the Islamic world.
Al-Awad told The Arab Weekly that the GCC "does not affect the people of the Gulf only. It also affects, with its weight and stability and economic strength, the Arab and Islamic world. Therefore, all countries, including friendly countries, look forward to the outcome of this summit, which is being covered by more than 300 journalists from around the world. "
Gulf diplomatic sources have pointed out that Qatar is acting like a superpower and wants to impose its choice on the Gulf countries and their summit. They believe that the Qatari escalation is part of Doha’s ongoing media campaign against Saudi Arabia, since the kingdom is the primary patron of the Gulf integration process. These same sources noted that the Qatari escalation reflects the narrowness of the options where Doha is confining itself. It also illustrates Qatar's gamble on the transformations in the region sought by Ankara and Tehran as well as Doha's desperate desire to take advantage of the pressures against Riyadh after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
According to sources at the Gulf Summit, GCC members in general and Saudi Arabia in particular have been striving to protect the GCC and counter any attempts at undermining Gulf institutions even if the entire Gulf region is aware of Qatar’s role in seeking to destabilize the GCC. The same sources believe Doha prefers to push forward with its plans to sever ties with its Gulf environment and align itself instead with Islamist regimes of Iran and Turkey.
Qatar itself has for decades been a sponsor of political Islam.
Jomai Guesmi is a Tunisian journalist