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Sunday, April 14, 2024

GCC: Not yet ready to remove blockade from Qatar?

Who is leading the anti-Qatar block? Are Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Egypt at the same page to mend their relations with Qatar?

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said the position of the Saudi-led bloc on relations with Qatar remains unchanged. “I affirm that nothing has changed,” el-Sisi said in a reply to a question at the closing session of a youth forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday.

He, however, noted that there were efforts underway to unease the situation and ensure unity among the member states. “There are efforts being exerted and we hope this effort will succeed,” he said, without giving further details. “We are talking about building confidence and healthy relations,” he noted.

Some progress has been made

Recently, Qatar foreign minister has spoken of “some progress” in talks with Saudi Arabia on ending a bitter two-year-old rift between Doha, Kingdom and its allies.

In the latest sign of a thaw, Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said that there had been “some progress” in talks with Saudi Arabia. “We believe the blockade of Qatar and the sequences of events after that has been affecting and undermining the security in our region,” the minister said.

He pointed out that they have moved from stalemate to some progress. “In recent weeks we have moved from a stalemate to some progress. There are some talks that have taken place between us and, specifically, Saudi,” he said. Moreover, the minister also maintained that “we hope these talks will lead to progress where we can see an end to the crisis.”

Read more: Qatar emir skips summit but bonhomie points to thaw with Saudi Arabia

The Qatari minister said the talks took place under Kuwaiti mediation and thanked Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, for his “continuous efforts and commitment”.

It is important to note that His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah of Kuwait has categorically stated that the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors “is no longer acceptable” and must be resolved. He was addressing the opening session of parliament’s new term, Sheikh Sabah said the boycott has greatly weakened the unity of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is a member.

On June 5, 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic ties and trade relations with Qatar, closing land, air and sea links, as they accused Doha of supporting “terrorism” and their regional rival, Iran. Doha vehemently denies the charges and says the boycott aims to impinge on its sovereignty.

The disclosure of talks come shortly after Saudi King Salman invited Qatar’s emir to a summit of the Gulf regional bloc in Riyadh on Tuesday. The Wall Street Journal had previously reported that the foreign minister had made the unannounced visit in October. There, he met senior Saudi officials and made an offer to end the regional rift, an Arab official told the newspaper. It was the highest-level visit by a Qatari official to the kingdom since May when Qatar’s prime minister attended an Arab summit in Mecca.

Read More: King Salman invites Qatar’s Emir: GCC countries moving towards peaceful settlement?

Observers are eagerly awaiting Qatar’s response, which could pave the way for a “reconciliation conference” despite the many hurdles that obstruct the path to detente. “Signs that reconciliation is impending are multiplying,” Kristian Ulrichsen, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute in the United States, said after Riyadh’s invitation to the Qatari ruler. Some Saudi observers have downplayed the move, saying the king was following protocol and had invited the Qatari leader to last year’s summit too.

Giorgio Cafiero, CEO of Gulf State Analytics, a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy, believes that “the Saudi leadership sees efforts aimed at isolating Doha as far less critical in the current period compared to previous periods. The blockade has accumulated diminishing returns from the Saudi standpoint, and although it is difficult to imagine Saudi Arabia ceasing to have problems with Qatar, there has been a notable moderation of Riyadh’s rhetoric and policies concerning Doha. Signs suggest that Qatar and Saudi Arabia could find a ‘new understanding’ which could result in bilateral relations re-normalizing before the end of this year”.

He further notes that “a Saudi-Qatari rapprochement by itself would mark a major success for Kuwait. As the Gulf state that has been leading mediation efforts since this festering feud began in mid-2017, Kuwait has worked tirelessly to resolve the GCC crisis. The Sultanate of Oman also has attempted to help the blockading states and Qatar resolve their dispute, making any further thawing of relations between both sides in Riyadh this month a welcome development from Muscat’s perspective”.

Moreover, Giorgi opined that “if Saudi Arabia unfreezes its diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, such a move will signal a significant shift in Riyadh’s foreign policy with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his father King Salman at the helm. If such a turning point occurs at the GCC summit, it will be essential to understand such a moment within the grander context of all that Saudi Arabia is facing in terms of its alliance with Washington and the region’s chaotic state of affairs”.