Commentary

GCC Troubles Spill into Arab League Meeting

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

As regional heads of state and other government officials prepare to meet in the Kuwaiti capital for an Arab League summit, questions about disagreements among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states continue to pose challenges for the organizers. There have been some proposals from the Kuwaiti side that perhaps the hosts could mediate negotiations between the Qataris and the other GCC members, but such proposals have been pushed aside by the Saudis and others, who have made it clear that there will be no improvements in the relationship unless the Qataris recalibrate their foreign policy priorities.

Unlike Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, Kuwait has refrained from any diplomatic measures against Qatar and is now pushing for a rapprochement between the Qataris and the rest, proposing the upcoming Arab League summit as the right place to get the process started: “the Arab Summit in Kuwait is an effective approach to develop the joint Arab action and would contribute to accomplishing the goals and principles of the Arab League Charter, a top Finance Ministry said Thursday. Assistant Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Sami Al-Saqabi made the remarks at the opening session of the Arab League Economic and Social Council meeting at the level of senior officials and permanent representatives, held to prepare the economic and social file of the March 25-26 Arab summit.”

Writing for Kuwait Times, Muna Al-Fuzaj wonders whether Kuwait has the ability to repair the frail relations among the GCC members: “Can Kuwait repair the broken bridge between Qatar and the rest of the Gulf countries? How much success Kuwait be able to achieve? It is hard to predict at this stage because several former Arab summits were held at a time when debates were open and heated....It is not easy to eliminate religious and political conflicts in the Middle East. One of the key issues is the need of reforming the Arab League. It is about time to move it out of Egypt and have a full reform of its policies and methods of working and handling issues. This summit will not bring miracles and key issues will be analyzed, but Kuwait will carry the mission as a host country. Not less and not more.”

Staff writers at Al Arabiya also report that Kuwaiti officials are holding out hope that they may be able to “heal the Gulf rift ahead of the Arab Summit…. Kuwait is seeking to mediate an end to the standoff between Qatar and three Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain – ahead of a planned Arab summit to be held on March 25, a prominent Kuwait lawmaker has said. Ali al-Rashid, the head of the foreign affairs committee at the Kuwaiti parliament, told reporters on Tuesday that his committee was supporting official efforts to “heal the rift” and push for reconciliation between the Gulf states.”

Initially it appeared as if the efforts were bringing results, as all GCC members noted that they would send representatives to the upcoming summit, leading the Kuwait Times staff to hope that mediation might prove successful after all: “This will be the first time in which the six nations gather in one place since Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. Kuwait, along with Oman, did not follow suit. Instead, Kuwait launched efforts to achieve reconciliation between GCC states that is hoped to be accomplished simultaneously with the Arab Summit....Gathering the six GCC states in one place is the ‘first fruits’ of these efforts, said First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah. Meanwhile, the foreign minister did not mention during the one-hour meeting Kuwait’s position on political groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood which was listed by some GCC states on their terrorism list.”

Al Jazeera’s Dahlia Kholaif also believes the future of the GCC now depends on the Arab summit outcome, suggesting the “Diplomatic spat could weaken or even unravel [the] six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council…. The future of the bloc now hinges on mediation efforts led by Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah. The Gulf deadlock will likely top the agenda of the two-day Arab League summit, hosted by Kuwait starting March 25, either directly or indirectly, as it also discusses Egypt and Syria. Analysts expect Western players, including the US, to try to bridge the gap. The US is a close ally of all six GCC monarchies, and has a large military base, al-Udeid, in Qatar. But there is little hope that mediation will bring about much of a change.“

But the Saudis have been insistent from the beginning that no mediation is needed. For example, according to a Gulf News’ report by Habib Toumi “Saudi Arabia has ruled out the possibility of international mediation in its dispute with Qatar, and said that the conflict will not be resolved ‘until Qatar revises its policies’....’If Qatar, which caused the crisis readjusts its policy, there will be a breakthrough,’ Prince Saud said in statements....Al Faisal made his statements amid reports that Saudi officials did not show up for bilateral meetings with their counterparts in the Qatari capital over the last two weeks.”

Following those declarations, it appears that Arab League officials have stepped away from the reconciliation efforts, making it clear that the GCC rift will not be addressed at the Arab League meeting: “The political crisis in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will not be taken up by the Arab summit to be hosted by Kuwait next week, a senior Arab League official has said....Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmad Bin Hilli on Wednesday evening denied the reports claiming the standoff would be on the agenda of the Arab summit....Arab League Secretary General Nabeel Al Araby on Monday said that the Gulf dispute would not be included in the Arab summit’s talks and that it was an internal Gulf affair.”

Furthermore, several observers, including Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulaziz Bin Othman Bin Saqr have made the comment that the only solution lies in the Qatari government heeding the requests of its neighbors and making their foreign policy more compatible with the rest of the GCC members: “We agree that the alliances of GCC states with other countries or groups outside the GCC system, should not be rejected or harmful, as they are a sovereign right for all GCC states including Qatar. However, it must also be recognized that these alliances must not come at the expense of vital interests, or at the expense of the security and stability of the other GCC states. They must also not be an alternative to good and balanced relations within the GCC, nor a means of muscle-flexing against the GCC or of disturbing the stability of the GCC. Therefore, what is expected from the Qatari leadership is for it to reconsider its priorities, and take into consideration the fact that Gulf security and stability is “indivisible” and not subject to bargaining. Foreign alliances are nothing more than temporary and tactical moves; they must not be placed above the higher interests of the GCC, which are strategic in nature.”

The National (UAE) editorial goes a bit further demanding that Qatar clarify its policy positions and recognize that it must sever ties with some of the groups whose objectives are inimical with those of the GCC member states: “It appears that Doha has underestimated both the degree of feeling in Arab countries against the Brotherhood and the pernicious influence of its politics. The UAE looks at the recent trial of members of the Brotherhood-linked Islah organization and sees a systematic attempt to influence its internal affairs. No country could tolerate such actions, and certainly could not be expected to stand by while that same organization was supported by a neighbor. Remaining relevant in the world means remaining united. No pan-Arab grouping is as relevant today in the Middle East as the GCC. It needs to remain so.”


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