GCC tensions: not the right time to escalate

In an unprecedented step in the history of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar yesterday. This escalating situation might threaten the existence of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The three states cited Qatar’s failure to adhere to the recently-signed security agreement as the reason for recalling their envoys. “Regrettably, all efforts have not resulted in securing Qatar’s agreement to implement the security pact,” according to a joint statement published by Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

They also asked Doha, which has been a major supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, “not to support all of the works of the threat of security and stability of the GCC countries from organizations or individuals, either through direct security work or by attempting to influence the political, and non-support for hostile media.”

But all efforts failed, the statement said.

Supposed brotherly ties

Qatar’s cabinet voiced “regret and surprise” at the decision of the “sisterly countries” of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain to withdraw their ambassadors from Doha. Qatar is “absolutely keen on brotherly ties between the Qatari people and fellow brotherly people of the GCC, which prevent Qatar from taking a similar procedure of recalling its ambassadors,” the statement added.

Qatar’s intentions towards the Gulf Cooperation Council should be clear and transparent

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi

These developments come after a late Tuesday meeting in Riyadh of foreign ministers from six members of the GCC. And also comes after months of rising tension on the background of the political situation in Egypt and the way in how to deal with Iran.

Away from the language of escalation, the situation should be regarded as a dispute within the “family” because it’s not in the interest of any one in the GCC to rock the boat these days. Thus we must stress on several key issues, which in my view are essential to try to put things back on track.

Confined to the leadership

First, this tension MUST not affect the ordinary people and should be confined to the political leaders. It is essential that the current political escalation does not affect the movement of people, goods or money. There are billions of cross-border investments at stake here.

The Gulf leaders must take into account the interests of the GCC’s citizens and make sure this tension does not harm the investors.

Second, Saudi Arabia and the UAE expressed sensitivity towards some political criticism may not be justified in some cases. The situation in the Middle East has become both complex and dire, therefore, it’s logical to expect some legitimate concerns to be expressed publicly.

Silencing the critics

A policy based on silencing all the critics will not work, and could backfire. Despite the worries of instability, the time has come to give the local media more freedom to debate the real issues in the Gulf.

More importantly, Qatar’s intentions towards the GCC should be clear and transparent. Of course Doha has the right to oppose any policies that it thinks do not serve its interests.

However, it is wrong to work contrary to the agreements which have been agreed upon in advance. Every state must abide by all signed agreements because it’s in everyone’s interest and it vital to promote institutional framework within the GCC.

Saudi hegemony

There are also the concerns of some Gulf States, Qatar and Oman in particular, of Saudi Arabia hegemony are another important issue. Certainly, the kingdom is the largest country in terms of area, population and economy, and any political role should reflect the true status of Saudi Arabia.

Nevertheless, Riyadh’s policy must be flexible and patient, and work hard to allay the fears of the other Gulf States even if that requires some time.

There is also the position toward Egypt. Qatar is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, while Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain favor the current regime. This contradiction could be turned to constructive policies that would benefit everyone.

Changing the policy

Doha can take advantage of its good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood to convince them that their escalation towards protest hurts everyone.

While Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait may help to change the policy of current regime towards the Brotherhood as it’s become clear that the policy of complete “eradication” of the Brotherhood is unrealistic and they should follow a new a road map to end the political impasse.

This may seem kind of wishful thinking, but the alternatives may cost everyone politically and economically.

The Gulf leaders should deal with the foreign policy of the GCC member states not as a matter of life or death, but as an evolving process that could change at any time. The implementation of policies needs time, concessions and great efforts of all sided in order to ensure its success.

Dr Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst, and author of the forthcoming book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: @nasertamimi and email: nasertamimi@hotmail.co.uk

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:52 - GMT 10:52
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