Some 335 days ago, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman invited the five other GCC states to a meeting in the city of Al-Ula, in which he proposed his collective reconciliation project. The summit was crowned with the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration, in the presence of representatives of the Egyptian and US governments, the Arab League, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
At the time, even the most optimistic views gave the agreement a 6-month trial period to gauge its feasibility. After all, the disputes were not only numerous and complicated, but also both individual and collective; and reconciliation cannot happen without some tough concessions.
Now, almost a year later, we can safely say that the agreement has held. The reconciliations moved forward, albeit slowly. Agreements or actions were put in place for most points of contention, be they political, legal, or otherwise. It must also be recognized that all the concerned governments made concessions. The reconciliations brought about surprising and interesting agreements, notably the one between Egypt and Turkey, which was the fruit of many in-depth meetings.
Yesterday, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began from Muscat his visit to the five GCC capitals, a visit that will cement the efforts he launched in Al-Ula on 5 January. His visit was preceded by news of more breakthroughs that would complement the outcomes of the agreement. For one, Turkey has expressed its intent to widen the scope of the reconciliation with Saudi Arabia, sponsored by the Qatari Amir. Also, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, visited Ankara two weeks ago, and the Emirati National Security Advisor visited Tehran and met with Iran’s President two days ago. Baghdad had also hosted many Saudi-Iranian meetings in the last few months.
Now, as the year comes to an end, the Al-Ula Declaration is bearing its fruit, with “zero” disputes in the GCC and all the positive repercussions thereof on the region, and with a consensus on de-escalation in most regional issues.
In fact, these numerous and intense tensions in the region did not emerge out of thin air: they are the direct results of the 2011 revolutions in the Arab world. The simultaneous collapses that ensued engendered vacuums and crises too big for these countries to manage, and as such, these failed revolutions turned into wars in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, as crises continued to threaten the stability of Iraq, Sudan, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
This past decade has proven difficult for everyone, as states sought alliances that would secure their borders and stop the chaos from spreading into them, or save those states caught in the eye of the storm or teetering on the edge of the cliff.
These collective tensions were the ones that led to the disputes, whether in the GCC or at the wider regional level.
The efforts of GCC states have managed to put an end to disputes between them. The reconciliation was built on several thorough considerations and concessions by all parties, and its results have reached as far as Egypt and Turkey. But one cannot say the same for Iran, because the disputes with the latter are more complex and linked to regional issues, such as Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. However, even reducing tensions with Iran –not necessarily reconciling with it– can be beneficial to achieve collective regional peace.
More importantly, all these various reconciliations have been put to test practically, and now, 11 months later, they became a beacon of success that heralds better days ahead for the whole region.
Reconciliatory efforts will not stop at Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Bahrain. They will also help build fortifications that prevent the dangerous tensions taking place on the fringes of our region from spreading into it, whether conflicts between Iran and Azerbaijan, or Azerbaijan and Armenia, or Turkey and Greece, or the more recent Ethiopian civil war. Although these are separate conflicts, they may feed on Arab disputes and become a threat to us.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.