The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is facing its most challenging rift after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt broke off diplomatic relations with Qatar and closed off their land, sea and airspaces to Qatar. The measures followed GCC states’ assertion that Qatar is destabilising the region with its support to terrorist groups and individuals, and cosying up to Iran, besides giving Turkey a foothold on Gulf soil through its military base in Doha. The escalating crisis certainly threatens to upend the most successful regional Arab bloc.
Saudi Arabia said the steps against Qatar are necessary to ward off the dangers of terrorism and extremism. The UAE said the objective is to change Qatar’s behaviour, not regime change. Two weeks into the crisis, the three GCC states and Egypt published a list of 59 individuals and 12 entities categorised as terrorists and terrorist organisations that are supported or sheltered by Qatar. They want Qatar to stop funding and abetting terrorists and honour its pledge in 2014 after an earlier spat.
The GCC states are facing a snowballing crisis that could undermine the bloc, which was formed as an alliance of necessity to maximise the power of six like-minded nations under the slogan: Our Gulf is one (Khalijonha Wahed). The council that comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE was formed in 1981 to consolidate power and coordinate policies to stave off crises surrounding the region that was imploding, especially between 1979-1981. These pivotal years were punctuated by the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution that toppled the Shah, the Iran-Iraq war, Camp David and former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s assassination.
The GCC never evolved into a security alliance to deter or contain enemies and foes, but it weathered upheavals, crises, and many wars, the Iranian revolution, threats from states and non-state actors, including the Cold War rivalry. It was generally successful in navigating a precarious region that was pushed down a spiral of endless instability and more alarmingly skewed regional balance of power in favour of Iran after the fall of Iraq’s president Saddam Hussain.
The current crisis erupted few days after a successful GCC-United States summit in Riyadh in the presence of American President Donald Trump. In a formidable show of unity against terrorism and Iran, during a meeting called by Saudi King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz and in the presence of heads of 50 Muslim states, Trump lashed out at Iran. Trump’s backing continued when the GCC states took action against Qatar on June 5.
As mediation efforts picked up steam, three of the GCC states and Egypt submitted a 13-point list of demands that called for lowering Qatar’s diplomatic relations with Iran, shutting down Turkey’s military base, snapping relations with all terrorist, sectarian and ideological groups, led by Muslim Brotherhood, Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), Al Qaida, the former Jabhat Al Nusra and Hezbollah.
It also called for ending funding to all kinds of terrorist or extremist individuals and organisations, handing over terrorists, shutting down the Al Jazeera television station and its offshoots and closing all hostile media supported by Qatar. Doha was also asked to desist from interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, stop granting citizenships to any of the four countries’ nationals, provide compensation for victims and losses to the four countries arising from Qatar’s policy over the last few years. These demands have to be agreed to in 10 days.
Clearly, these are steep demands and Qatar has so far not shown any sign of accepting them. This no doubt plunges the GCC into turmoil and the bloc faces its most serious crisis since inception.
As the Americans and Europeans get working towards actionable demands that Qatar must adhere to, there is an acute need for pragmatism.
Kuwait has been leading a difficult mediation effort to end the stalemate, despite coming under heavy criticism for taking a neutral stance. There is an urgent need to support the Kuwaiti mediation and Qatar needs to seriously look into the list of demands. If not, it could spell the end of the GCC as the most viable and most successful Arab alliance. And that would be a major loss.
Professor Abdullah Al Shayji is a professor of Political Science and the former chairman of the Political Science Department, Kuwait University. You can follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/@docshayji.