Qatar ready for dialogue over Gulf blockade because ‘we are all brothers’ and ‘no one will win’, emir says.
The next few weeks are crucial for the future of the Gulf Cooperation Council. What does not happen in the next couple of months could prove to be as important as what does.
The annual GCC summit is scheduled to take place in December. Since it was founded in 1981 this summit has never failed to take place, even during its darkest days – the Gulf war and occupation of Kuwait; the leaders of the six member countries made a point of convening with the belief that the challenges facing their region can only be overcome through unity and cooperation.
Today, however, the GCC’s future hangs in the balance. The deep rift caused by the blockade imposed on Qatar and the attempts by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to engineer regime change in Doha, and even invade the gas-rich country, have thrown the region into turmoil.
For almost five months now there has been a concerted effort headed by Kuwait and supported by several regional and international powers to find a solution to the crisis. Qatar declared its readiness to sit down with its neighbours in a bid to find a solution, but according to senior sources in the Kuwaiti government, those sentiments have not be reciprocated by any of the three blockading nations, namely the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Instead, those countries have spent millions of dollars on PR campaigns accusing Doha of sponsoring “terrorism”, and have given explicit support to a handful of Qatari nationals, framing them as potential alternative leaders as they continue their push to depose the current emir.
According to a senior Kuwaiti diplomat, there is a belief that if the GCC summit does not take place as scheduled, this would amount to the collapse of the organisation. The reason such a prospect is so grave is because of the stability – both economic and political – that the GCC represents in a region fraught with conflicts and divisions.
Earlier this week there, Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, flew to Riyadh for a brief but extremely important meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. Sources told me that the meeting centred on the former impressing upon the latter just how imperative it is that the meeting of Gulf leaders takes place.
The problem is that both Saudi Arabia and the UAE seem either unwilling or incapable of agreeing to any reconciliation. Incapable because, after months of billing Qatar as a cancerous terror-sponsoring nation whose leaders need to be overthrown, a sudden agreement to sit around a table with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani would make them look insincere at best.
And unwilling because the commonly perceived goal of the blockade on Qatar was to force Doha to succumb to the dictates of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, essentially forcing it to forfeit its sovereignty – something that the blockade has failed to achieve.
A possible plan B, if Kuwait’s mediation efforts continue to fail, is the announcement of a US-GCC summit to be held at Camp David. Sources tell me this could be an opportunity for the UAE and Saudi to save face, as they would be attending the meeting at the request of the world’s most powerful superpower and their most strategic ally; rather than at the behest of little old Kuwait. This idea seems to be gaining traction amongst diplomats who believe that it is Washington’s responsibility to clean up the mess created or at least exacerbated by President Donald Trump.
The challenge for many governments around the world is finding a way to get both sides of the divide to start talking. The brief glimmer of hope that was the phone call between Qatar’s emir and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman proved insufficient. In the region, it is felt that it lacked the American support and sustained pressure needed to make it work. A summit in the United States might do the trick. But even if it does work in getting these leaders to sit around the same table, the damage caused by this crisis will take a lot more to repair.
The immediate concern may be over the future of the GCC as an organisation, but what is at stake is greater still: namely the future of the region and its people – what does tomorrow hold for them? Will this part of the world be a place where pluralism is embraced, freedom and human rights are advanced and free markets are protected? Or will the future of the Gulf be limited to absolute monarchies that dress up their repressive politics and autocratic rule in a facade of liberalism, where the only real choice citizens have is which club to party at or what megamall to shop in?