A string of rapid-fire developments this weekend in Qatar, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates will likely mark this as the turning point that nudged the seven-week-old GCC crisis towards a resolution. A combination of public statements, practical policy measures, and a veritable armada of foreign mediators should prompt indirect negotiations in the coming week, leading to direct talks soon after that.
The bitter conflict that saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt impose a land, sea, and air siege of Qatar on June 5 now appears to be solvable, due to three critical new developments. First, the US has intervened forcefully, repeatedly, and publicly to end the disputed, and on Friday called for removing the land blockade of Qatar because Washington is “satisfied” with Qatar’s new counterterrorism actions.
Qatar for its part has responded defiantly, but with political acumen – launching a strong counterterrorism financing policy with the US, showing that it has almost totally absorbed the inconveniences and cost hikes from the failed siege, and repeating its willingness to negotiate a resolution based on principles that apply to all parties. The Saudi-Emirati-led siege-masters, for their part, seem to have recognised that their case against Qatar was gaining no significant supporters around the world, while Qatar enjoyed deep and widespread backing.
The points of convergence that will allow Qatar and its erstwhile Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners to resolve their dispute were already evident in early July in the six principles that the GCC besieging states issued and demanded that Qatar accept – replacing the original 13 “non-negotiable” and highly exaggerated demands they had made in mid-June. The six principles all focus on internationally accepted norms for fighting terrorism and terror financing, respecting the sovereignty of other states, and abiding by negotiated agreements.
The Friday night speech by the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, his first since the crisis erupted, was forceful, defiant, and steadfast, but not aggressive or insulting. It captured three critical dimensions of this crisis to date: 1) the vital importance of strong domestic and regional support that allowed Qatar to resist the siege and reject the original 13 demands, 2) Qatar’s desire to negotiate on the basis of shared values, mutual respect, non-interference, and without wild pressure tactics like the siege, that all GCC states should commit to, and, 3) Qatar will safeguard above all its sovereignty and its promotion of freedom of expression.
Award-winning new mechanisms of national and political face-saving will have to be created to finalise an agreement to resolve this dispute.
The Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Friday that, “The Qatari decision to revise their law regarding the financing of terrorism is a step in the right direction towards addressing the terrorism blacklist of 59 entities [which the besiegers had issued in mid-June]. The pressure from the crisis has borne fruit.”
Whether indeed pressure on Qatar caused it to respond, or Qatar’s resistance to the exaggerated and unrealistic original 13 Saudi-Emirati demands caused them to be discarded quietly in the middle of the night, will long be debated by partisans of both camps. More importantly, the US now seems to have pressured all sides to find a speedy and peaceful solution, and all parties share a set of principles and concrete actions they can agree on and refine into an agreement.
At the same time, major countries like the US and Germany are already getting involved logistically to make any new agreement stick, while half a dozen international mediators are working hard to find the magic formula to end the siege and resume normal relations among the fractured GCC states – the latest being the Turkish president and the European Union foreign relations chief who will visit the Gulf in the coming days.
Thanks to the Saudi-Emirati climb-down from their slightly hysterical original demands and the Qatari commitment to universally accepted counterterror and sovereign non-interference principles, conditions exist today that could allow all concerned to end the crisis while saying they achieved their objectives and retained their honour and their sovereignty.
Award-winning new mechanisms of national and political face-saving will have to be created to finalise an agreement to resolve this dispute, probably drawing on commitments by states beyond the GCC or even the Arab League, perhaps even using available instruments from multinational organisations like the United Nations or the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
When the dust settles on this dispute, many lessons will be learned by all concerned, including small and big countries, and Arab and non-Arab states. At least two important ones have already been learned.
First, strong-armed, gangland-like pressure tactics will not succeed in securing submission from countries whose policies align with international norms, and whose citizens genuinely express solidarity across society and state. Second, virtually the entire world respects policies that promote pluralism, freedom of expression, open exchange of ideas and total human development, and rejects policies that limit the ability of men and women to use all their intellectual and cultural faculties in the service of building more stable societies.
Rami G Khouri is senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, an internationally syndicated columnist, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.