The Gulf and Egyptian diplomats are at the end of their tether as Qatar crisis continues to smoulder with no end in sight. Qatar’s response to the demands of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt elicited only a tepid response from Doha, angering the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states that has slammed it as irresponsible.
The three Gulf Arab countries and Egypt had broken off diplomatic relations with Qatar who has been supporting and funding individuals and entities involved in extremism and terrorism. They say Doha has been meddling in their internal affairs, and its close ties with regional arch-rival Iran is unsettling.
Ever since the diplomatic rupture on June 5, the Gulf Arab countries had kept the mediation options open. Creative diplomacy, cautious diplomacy, firm unstinting diplomacy were how they approached the crisis.
They had gone out of their way to exercise self-control, equanimity and fortitude towards a state that has displayed an extraordinarily “overall negative” response to their list of 13 demands put forward on June 22, before extending for 48 hours after a 10-day deadline at the request of Kuwaiti mediators. Wednesday’s Cairo meeting was called when Qatar failed to take affirmative action.
It was a softly, softly approach so far, giving Doha more time to think about its rigid stance and change it for the better. While Qatar is still sticking to its position, the quartet believes pressure should be heightened.
In Cairo, Gulf officials stressed the need to defeat terrorism, confront extremism and hate speech as well as stand against those who harbour and shelter extremists, besides funding them. When they said there is “zero-tolerance for terrorism”, it really set the tone of the conference and showed that the four states were in a no-nonsense mood.
Meeting the 13-point list of demands is the precondition to restoring diplomatic relations with Qatar, which still insists on maintaining a wayward foreign policy. The Arab quartet told Qatar not to shy away from its responsibilities. The list of demands was followed by a final six-point Cairo communique that contextualised their demands in the conventions and charters of the United Nations, Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. The communique also calls for a Qatari commitment to combating terrorism, prohibition of incitement and violence, commitment to the 2013 Riyadh Agreement, that Doha reneged to, and urged Qatar to stop interfering in their internal affairs.
What is clear from the Cairo 3+1 meeting is that the dossier of Qatar’s transgressions is being built up steadily. The foreign ministers feel that the only way to bring Doha back on track is by continuing to pile pressure so that it adheres to the 13 proposals to move forward.
Tension preceded the Cairo meeting since more sanctions were expected. All the statements pointed to more stringent measures against Qatar. But they still opted for a diplomatic way out of this crisis that has proved to be the worst since the GCC was formed in 1981.
The GCC believes a constructive dialogue is necessary to arrive at an acceptable solution to the crisis. Most world leaders, including United States President Donald Trump, want a constructive dialogue in what seen is as a very sensitive region of the globe because of the oil supply lines. The Europeans are also worried about the situation and have called for a quick end to the crisis.
But the quartet also feels the need to avoid muddying the waters. Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa stressed that the purpose of the Cairo meeting was to coordinate stances in the light of Qatar’s refusal of the 13-point demands and not to take drastic actions against it.
While there has been reports about expelling Doha from the GCC, this would require an elaborate process. According to Shaikh Khalifa that would require agreement by the rest of the states in the group, including Kuwait and Oman. The quartet are biding their time, they have not yet set a date for their meeting in Manama.
Media reports suggest that German intelligence may have agreed to monitor Qatari finances to curb terror funding. Discussions to that effect are believed to have taken place during the visit of German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel to Doha, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Kuwait last week. If that materialises, it would be the first breakthrough in the lingering stalemate.
Marwan Asmar is a commentator based in Amman. He has long worked in journalism and has a PhD in Political Science from Leeds University in the UK.