Will the GCC survive 2018?

Monday 08/01/2018
Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah gestures during a news conference with Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, following the annual summit of GCC, in Kuwait City, Kuwait. REUTERS

London- After a turbulent 2017 for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), defined mostly by the dispute with Qatar, indicators point to a continuation of the cri­sis, with questions arising about the 36-year-old organisation’s longevity.

The dispute with Qatar erupted June 5 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and GCC-ally Egypt severed ties with and imposed economic sanctions on Doha. The moves came over what was described as Qatar’s interference in the four countries’ internal affairs and support for radical groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The quartet of countries issued 13 demands that Doha needed to comply with for sanctions to be lifted. The list included Doha ending ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, downgrading its relations with Iran and closing Al Jazeera media network and what were deemed other hostile media outlets funded directly or indirectly by Qatar. Doha refused.

The dispute dragged on despite efforts from mediators such as the United States and GCC member Kuwait. The dispute was in full view at December’s annual GCC summit, which was scheduled for two days but ended after only a couple of hours.

One of the major side effects of the conflict was the empowerment of the opposition on Doha, even within members of its royal family. In September, Qatar’s opposition-in-exile met under one roof for the first time during a conference in London.

On December 18, coinciding with Qatar’s National Day celebrations, 20 members of the ruling al-Thani family, hosted by Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim al-Thani, met at an undisclosed location to unify their ranks against Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s policies.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya reported that, during the meeting, Sheikh Sultan stressed that Qatar would return to its Arab roots and that “soon we will celebrate with our family in Doha.”

Those at the meeting rejected the crackdown by the government in Doha on tribal leaders, particularly the revocation of citizenship, which had left affected Qataris stateless.

Sheikh Sultan’s home in Doha was raided this year after he publicly criticised government policies, accusing it of leading the country to “the brink of catastrophe.”

In September, French magazine Le Point, quoting an incarcerated French businessman in Doha, said approximately 20 members of the royal family had been arrested on charges ranging from issuing bad cheques to drug use.

Another effect of the dispute with Qatar and a point factoring heavily into the GCC’s future, was the formation of a political-military and economic alliance between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

The alliance, according to a resolution issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, would be a “joint cooperation committee” coordinating “all mili­tary, political, economic, trade and cultural fields.”

Such an undertaking between the GCC’s main economic powerhouses is in line with the two countries’ domestic and regional polices, particularly as it relates to security issues, such as the war in Yemen and the Iranian threat. It includes economic cooperation that would aid in both countries’ ambitious reform initiatives.

If the alliance proves fruitful for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, what would that mean for the GCC? Analysts said Bahrain could be a third member but questions exist with regards to Kuwait and Oman, particularly the latter, which has been neutral with regards to the crisis with Doha and in the GCC dispute with Iran, the bloc’s chief antagonist.