Qatari emir’s absence from Arab Gulf summit casts doubt on an end to ongoing GCC row

No tangible steps towards reconciliation despite improved climate.
Sunday 15/12/2019
A call for greater unity. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd R) walks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (C-R) and other GCC leaders during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s summit in Riyadh, December 10.  (Reuters)
A call for greater unity. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (2nd R) walks with Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah (C-R) and other GCC leaders during the Gulf Cooperation Council’s summit in Riyadh, December 10. (Reuters)

LONDON - Expectations of a quick resolution to the 30-month-old dispute within the Gulf Cooperation Council did not materialise after Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani skipped the summit, which was meant to highlight regional cohesion.

Observers viewed the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit December 10 in Riyadh as a missed opportunity to end the dispute between Qatar and the Arab Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — over Doha’s support for Islamist groups and its ties with Iran, among other issues.

Some optimism regarding reconciliation was boosted by reports about an unannounced trip Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani made in October to meet with top Saudi officials.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Thani told Saudi officials Qatar was “willing to sever its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood,” one of the chief demands of the Arab Quartet.

However, with Sheikh Tamim bypassing the summit, sending Qatari Prime Minister Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani in his stead, there were questions about Doha’s commitment to reconciliation.

“The lack of seriousness was very clear in the way Qatar dealt with the 40th Gulf Cooperation Council Summit… and its strong and repeated negativity through [the] sending of someone on behalf of its emir without any authorisation that can contribute to solving its crisis,” Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said in an official statement.

Sheikh Khalid dismissed comments by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, in which he stressed that talks with Saudi Arabia had gone beyond demands issued by the Arab Quartet to end the crisis.

Sheikh Khalid said the four countries were “fully committed to their firm positions and legitimate demands.” He was referencing requirements compiled by the Arab Quartet for Doha to comply with to normalise relations.

After the Riyadh summit, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said on Twitter: “The responsibility begins with the one who triggered the crisis and who should review the wrong policies that led to his isolation. Commitment to covenants, restoring credibility and ending support to extremism and interference are the start of the treatment.”

Doha itself described the progress achieved during the summit as “small”. The Qatari foreign minister told Reuters December 14 that there has been “small progress, just a little progress” at the summit.

There were, however, indicators pointing to a more positive climate. The Doha delegation reportedly received a warm welcome in Riyadh, with Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Qatari prime minister exchanging pleasantries.

“The people of Qatar, welcome, to your second country,” the Saudi commentator said on state television.

King Salman, in his opening speech, stressed and solidified that the summit’s final communique was the concept of “Gulf unity.”

An editorial by the Qatari Al Sharq newspaper hailed the summit’s affirmation of the importance of the Gulf unity and gave special praise to the Kuwaiti emir’s efforts to reach a solution to the Gulf dispute.

4