Manama: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nationals will long remember 2014 as the year their 33-year-old alliance of six countries suffered its worst diplomatic crisis.
A most challenging year for the GCC, 2014, however, was crowned by a spectacular reconciliation that ironed out differences and brought the member countries closer together following pledges of addressing all thorny issues to ensure there is no repeat of the drama that gripped them with mystery and uncertainty for long months.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) formed the GCC in 1981 to assert their self-responsibility amid inflamed anxieties about the Gulf becoming an arena of international struggle and tensions following the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution and the Iraq-Iran war.
The GCC today has the distinctive merit of being the only active alliance of Arab countries and its subsistence has never been at risk whereas other similar groups formed by Arab countries have had a fleeting and invariably insignificant existence.
The coherence of the GCC is premised on the fact that its members have much in common, mainly their historical background, socioeconomic structures, political systems and cultural characteristics.
Although they may at times have differed in their perceptions of some issues, particularly border disputes, the thorniest problem within the GCC for years, they have often confined their divergences to the alliance and worked on resolving them in the Gulf typical tradition of favouring discretion and prudence within a “positive framework of working together to achieve common objectives and interests.”
Against such a background, the announcement on March 5 this year by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from fellow GCC member Qatar until their standoff was resolved came as a shock to Gulf nationals.
The three capitals charged that Doha was not abiding by the GCC principles and that it was interfering in their domestic affairs. They also said that Doha was supporting Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood in their strategic ally Egypt, a movement perceived as a threat to stability and security.
Another accusation was that the Doha-based Al Jazeera broadcaster was being used as a mouthpiece for the Islamist groups.
Qatar denied all the charges and insisted that it was fully committed to the GCC principles and values.
“We were aware of the looming dark clouds hanging over ties between some GCC countries and Qatar over some sensitive issues, but we never thought ambassadors would be recalled and divisions would be made so public,” Jaber Mohammad, a Gulf analyst, said.
As a compromise between the two sides seemed elusive, Kuwait’s Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad, a leader highly respected by all member countries, worked on narrowing gaps as Gulf nationals started to ponder about the different possible scenarios, the options for all member countries and the future of the alliance.
Shaikh Sabah was able to secure a compromise and the Riyadh Agreement was signed on April 17, promising an end to the crisis through a series of practical measures.
An ad-hoc committee was set up to monitor the implementation of the agreement and assess progress in the accords.
However, hope and gloom clashed in the Gulf collective awareness as the committee kept its evaluations and reports secret while politicians issued contradictory statements and the media developed their own outlook based on “inside information.”
But it was soon obvious that a bitter stalemate was hampering progress and that another agreement was needed to put an end to the diplomatic impasse that threatened in the short term to cancel or relocate the annual GCC summit scheduled for December 9 in Qatar and to change the status of the GCC in the long run.
A breakthrough deal was reached in November, thanks mainly to the assertive efforts of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and an “extension” of the Riyadh Agreement was signed.
All the tension that made Gulf nationals anxiously hold their breath eased, and officials were able once more to refer to a “positive framework of working together to achieve common objectives and interests.”
The three ambassadors were reinstated and the GCC summit was held in Doha. The atmosphere was so cordial that the high-level meeting took only a couple of hours to review and agree on the points on the agenda.