Gulf states take a time out from rift

The rift between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain with Qatar seems to have been resolved. On April 17, 2014 the GCC countries, led by their foreign ministers, held an extraordinary meeting at Riyadh Air Base and signed a document that appears to have ended the dispute over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and allowing their followers to denounce Gulf monarchies and their allies from the Emirate. Qatar’s Foreign Minister Dr Khalid bin Mohamnad Al-Attiyah took part in the meeting along with his counterparts.

They agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other. The Riyadh Document also states that such policies must also not affect the “sovereignty” of a member state. Some observers are noting that Qatar’s effort is most likely temporary and Doha will return to its previous position. One Arab official called the agreement “pictorial.”

Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from Qatar last month, accusing it of meddling in their internal affairs and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. In the wake of this event, Arab officials were talking about ways to punish Qatar across an array of economic measures up to and including sanctions and blockades.

Arab officials are noting that this declaration is a test for Qatar and forces Doha to behave. They think that Qatar and the rest of the GCC may return to their dispute, likely in a worse state or perhaps in a better situation depending on the regional environment and the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran.

Dr. Theodore Karasik

Doha continued to behave as if the dispute did not exist with Emir Tamim making several diplomatic trips, particularly to Sudan, where the Qatari leader reportedly gave one billion dollars to Khartoum. This action sent shock waves through Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other allies who saw the potential for Qatar to form Sudanese proxies on the Sudan-Egypt border in order to pressure and embarrass the Egyptian government and al-Sisi’s pending presidency.

Brokering a deal

These actions brought about questions about the cohesiveness of the GCC at a time of immense geopolitical changes and challenges in the region. At the same time, Saudi Arabia apparently requested that the UK investigate the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Britain or else there would be trouble between the two countries.

Consequently, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that such an investigation was about to be launched. Riyadh’s threat was real: The kingdom’s investments in Britain total over 100 billion pounds. Many of Saudi Arabia’s financial instruments are tied up in British real estate, bonds, and in the weapons industry. Pulling out of some of these investments would likely have a devastating effect on Britain’s economy.

Suddenly, the Bahraini daily Al Ayam, reported that a new accord had been reached that stipulates that Qatar will deport around 15 Gulf nationals who are allegedly active members of the Muslim Brotherhood, including five UAE and two Saudi nationals, living in Doha.

The deal also postulated that Al Jazeera would be less aggressive in its coverage of events in some GCC countries and Egypt and avoid referring to the Egyptian military’s ouster last year of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of Mohammad Mursi as a “military coup.” Egyptian opposition figures living in Qatar would not be allowed to use Qatari media or Qatari-funded media.

Subduing the storm, for now

The truth of the matter is that Doha appears to have acquiesced to take a time out. Riyadh’s threat to Cameron apparently forced the British, who also have close financial ties to Qatar, to reign in the al-Thani government for the time being. The Saudis want to calm down the situation in the Gulf states - especially Qatar’s overt support for the Ikhwan- so that elections in Iraq, Egypt, and Turkey run smoothly without the continuing face-off.

In addition, according to an Arab official, a senior Iranian intelligence official visited Doha and pushed the Qatari government to “take a break” from the dispute as well.

Why? Because Tehran, who is growing closer to Doha and Ankara, want the Syrian file to run smoothly in the coming months too. Overall, there seems to be an interesting and timely convergence of interests between all parties against the Qatari government’s intransigence.

Since Qatar seems to be buying time, Doha will be increasingly under the microscope, especially after the regional elections are over. It is significant to note that the Riyadh Agreement does not include many of the Ikhwan owned businesses and groups in Qatar who are at the heart of Doha’s support network throughout the region.

Arab officials are noting that this declaration is a test for Qatar and forces Doha to behave. They think that Qatar and the rest of the GCC may return to their dispute, likely in a worse state or perhaps in a better situation depending on the regional environment and the ongoing P5+1 negotiations with Iran.

Overall, a breather is clearly necessary, but it is not quite time to call the disagreements between the Gulf states over the Muslim Brotherhood settled or over.

 

 

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Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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