The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) two-day meeting was cut short on its December 5 opening day, scuttling hopes that the meeting would address the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.
The council – comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – gathers every year to discuss regional affairs and cooperation. The meeting in Kuwait was the first since the blockade of Qatar began in June.
Qatar-owned network Al Jazeera reported that the meeting ended not long after the United Arab Emirates announced that it had formed a new economic and military partnership with Saudi Arabia, separate from the six-member council.
The meeting began against the backdrop of the killing of former longtime Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was shot dead by formerly allied Houthi fighters on December 4.
The function of the council
The summit presented an opportunity to solve the Qatar blockade, said Bill Law, founder of the Middle East analysis site The Gulf Matters. However, he told WikiTribune that shouldn’t have been taken as a sign that the crisis was easing.
“The Emir [of Kuwait], he’s the last one standing who was involved in the original set up of the GCC back in 1981. So it’s kind of a project, a legacy project for him,” Law said. “I think he would do his utmost to try and at least continue the annual summit.”
The GCC was set up to facilitate economic and security cooperation between the six energy-rich states. But this collective security has weakened significantly since the recent blockade severed diplomatic ties and froze all trade with Qatar. So far, only Oman has remained neutral while Kuwait has offered to play meditator.
The summit was confirmed with only around four days of notice given to attendees, which is unusual, said Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and author of Qatar and the Arab Spring.
“Normally these events are very choreographed with months in preparation,” he told WikiTribune before the conference began. “So this is really being put together at the very last minute.”
The council was set up for collective security, which involved counterbalancing a strong Iranian presence in the region. The rivalry between the GCC and Iran is becoming more tense as Iran grows in regional influence. Saudi Arabia, most visibly, sees Iran as a threat, and is engaged in proxy battles against Tehran in both Yemen and Syria.
Asked to predict how the meeting might go, Ulrichsen told WikiTribune: “Clearly the situation in Yemen is also now going to dominate and overshadow the summit. It could either be a success or failure but I don’t think there’s any real middle ground. Mostly, these summits are just picture-taking events but in this instance, I think there’ll either be a breakthrough, which is unlikely, or there’ll be an acrimonious falling out.”
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain – known as the Quartet – abruptly cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, citing what they said were concerns over Doha’s alleged funding of terrorism, including the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization founded in Egypt.
The Quartet laid out 13 demands from Qatar, which included limiting ties with Iran and shutting down its state-owned media channel Al Jazeera. Last week, Dubai’s head of general security Dhahi Khalfan tweeted (in Arabic) that the network’s headquarters in Doha should be bombed.
Qatar has denied that it supports terrorism and has rejected the demands, claiming that the blockade is an attempt to weaken its sovereignty.
The blockade was escalated when U.S. President Donald Trump wrote a series of tweets in its support, one in which he ostensibly took credit for the move. “During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” Trump wrote June 6.
“The terrorism stuff was the most effective public way to frame it, but terrorism specifically isn’t the issue,“ said Kyle Orton, a research fellow at the right-leaning think-tank Henry Jackson Society and author of a new report Qatar and the Gulf Crisis.
The report’s findings claim Doha gives support to Iranian-backed militant organization Hamas and groups linked to Al-Qaeda. It also alleges Qatar grants citizenship to those wanted by other Gulf states and, as Orton told WikiTribune, provides them with a platform “to agitate against their home states”.
How’s Qatar doing since the blockade?
For the most part, the blockade has been demonstrated to be a failure – analyzed here by this Washington Post piece – and the Qataris will probably survive it.
“It comes back to this whole question of face and pride. And unfortunately, the Quartet didn’t allow itself any climb down space, you know?” said Bill Law from Gulf Matters. “They presented a 13 demand-and-fold immediately and once that didn’t happen I think they overestimated the impact the economic blockade would have. I don’t know what they expected, that the economy of Qatar would collapse? It certainly didn’t.”
So far, Qataris have taken a diplomatic view of recent events and mounted a successful PR campaign to draw attention to the blockade. They have also honored the contract of the Dolphin Pipeline which pumps liquefied natural gas from Qatar to the UAE, and offered to engage in dialogue, as reported by the Financial Times.
“At every stage of this crisis, the GCC has been completely bypassed,” said Ulrichsen from the Baker Institute. “The initial grievances were not channeled through the GCC. The actions against Qatar were not taken through the GCC. At every stage, actions were taken bilaterally. The GCC is kind of meaningless in some respect. The Qataris may wonder to what extent is it worth staying in an organization that has been unable to prevent three of its members from turning on a fourth.”
- For a timeline of the blockade, Al Jazeera has been closely monitoring and updating the latest news surrounding the feud.
- Bloomberg has a special report package titled ‘Crisis in the Gulf.’ It details the unprecedented feud between Qatar and its neighbours, with special focus on the oil market and U.S. involvement.
- The Washington Post reported in July that the United Arab Emirates hacked Qatar in May, which the Emirates have denied. The Post cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying that new information confirmed that senior members of the UAE discussed plans to hack Qatari state media sites on May 23.