Gulf officials declared on April 17, 2014, the end of what they described as a mere misunderstanding among “brothers of the same family”, and the relations among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had returned to their normal “purity and clarity”. This came after the break-up of relations with Qatar when other GCC countries withdrew their ambassadors from Doha, accusing it of interfering in their internal affairs. The reasons for the current crisis with Qatar are not much different. But it seems the three GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain) limited their action to withdrawing ambassadors from Doha rather than apply a total blockade (it’s currently only a boycott), to give the newly-bestowed Emir, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, who assumed office merely nine months earlier, time to settle into his new position.
The current crisis that has blown up in an unprecedented way reflects a new reality in inter-Arab relations. It is traditionally typical that Arabs tend to sort out their problems, no matter how acute they are, by simply avoiding to implement the agreements they sign on. This is unfortunately entrenched, for one reason or another, in our culture, not as a recent phenomenon, but it goes back centuries in Arab history. This method takes many different forms between countries in the modern Arab world and that would probably explain why Arabs are continuously unable to solve their many problems, big or small.
Has the reality changed in view of the current Qatar crisis? It seems it has and very rapidly indeed, but it won’t be clear how far and deep and whether it is sufficiently effective unless we see how the crisis ends.
What are the possible solutions? It seems there are three:
The first is that Qatar accepts soon the list of demands presented by the three GCC countries and Egypt. So far, judging by their reaction to the demands, the Qatari government is clearly stalling and is denying all the accusations. It is obvious now that the so-called solution of 2014 failed to end the crisis with Qatar. At the time, the ambassadors were pulled out of Doha because the emir dishonoured an agreement, known as the ‘Riyadh Agreement, that he had signed in November 2014.
Secondly, a military action against Qatar to force it to change course. Clearly, none of the GCC countries or Egypt is talking about this option since it is not in the interest of the parties involved. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why Doha has unwisely turned to Turkey to send troops to Qatar since the two countries are already tied up by a joint defence agreement signed two years ago. Why has Doha asked the adventurist President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to beef up his country’s troops in Qatar? Is it to make a complicated situation worse, or is it because it doesn’t trust the Americans enough, with their 11,000 personnel already stationed at Al Udaid airbase that cost the Qataris $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) to build? Or is it both? Here, Qatar’s huge dilemma, as a tiny state, seems clearly obvious as it tries to play a role bigger than its size and even bigger than its diplomatic and financial capacities. The military option cannot be an option and Turkey is unlikely to risk a confrontation with Saudi Arabia. But it seems that Qatar has never been serious about building solid neighbourly relations with its Gulf Arab partners in the most significant regional institution in the Middle East — the GCC.
The third possible solution is to prolong the crisis as long as possible without an end in the foreseeable future, like many other problems in the region. This is totally out of tune with the philosophy of the GCC, of which Qatar is a founding member.
What’s clear so far is that Qatar wants to avoid the military option and prefers the first option with a bit of the third. It claims that to change its political path undermines its sovereignty and its right to choose its own foreign policy. This has been the country’s position as repeated by its Foreign Minister, Shaikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani. It is well established that political disputes are normally sorted out by negotiation, which requires in many cases mutual concessions, but also requires sometimes concessions by one party in the interests of the whole. We regularly find this practice followed by the European Union (EU) countries and Nato states.
Furthermore, it is ironic to see a tiny country in the GCC stabbing in the back other member-states of the same culture and historic background.
The EU has managed to succeed over the last 43 years despite the different cultures, languages and historical animosity among its 28 member-states. Europeans have set an example in taking political and economic integration further when the EU opened the doors of its membership for the former Communist countries in Europe, following the demise of the Soviet Union. GCC countries, particularly Qatar, could learn some useful lessons from the European integration process that began in 1956 with only six countries: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The GCC is facing its first serious crisis for survival and the time has come for Qatar to take decisive action. Whether it wishes to remain within the GCC or decides to break out, Doha must respect the stability and security of its immediate Arab neighbours. It should start listening to reason.
Mustapha Karkouti is a former president of the Foreign Press Association, London. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@mustaphatache