They say out of crisis comes opportunity. In the Arabian Gulf that always rings true. By resolving the three-year-old Qatar crisis, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has never looked stronger, more united and ready to take on the next decade.
Accelerating the measures to bring back Qatar into the block’s fold (on Saturday, the UAE resumed travel and transport and trade ties with Qatar) indicate that the six states plan to turn the crisis that effectively paralysed the GCC for three years into a road map to become a competitive player on the global stage. Resolving the Qatar issue could also be a catalyst to the resolution of other regional conflicts such as the Yemen and Libya wars.
Therefore, ending the Qatar crisis was a necessity. It was apparent from day one that the boycott was not going to be forever. It was like a family feud that must run its course, which is important to give Qatar time to reconsider its position with regard to the issues raised by the Quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Issues like supporting extremist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, its interference through its official media outlets in the affairs of other Gulf states, its relations with Iran and Turkey among other things.
Since its establishment on May 25, 1981 at the InterContinental Hotel in Abu Dhabi, the GCC has always been like a family. That is a big part of its endurance and success. Unlike any other political or economic groupings, the GCC consists of six countries that are almost identical in every sense of the word - political systems, language, history, religion and more importantly the people’s factor. A Kuwaiti family will have roots in Saudi Arabia for example. One can find Bahrainis and Qatari who carry the same family name. The same tribes are found in three or four GCC states.
The family element
That factor was not only fundamental to the creation of the block but also important in sustaining it. Thus, a crisis with Qatar was always bound to end. Some analysts, mostly from outside the region, had thought the GCC was over, gone because of the Qatar crisis because they don’t fully understand the family element in the composition of the group. Therefore, they probably thought it was odd when they saw Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman hugging the Emir of Qatar upon his arrival at the summit on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, in the 40 years since its inception, the GCC has become more than just that. It has matured into a major political and economic player in the region. Two of its members, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the largest and second largest Arab economies, respectively. They export more than 14 million barrels of oil a day. Their combined GDP is $1.629 trillion. The six countries’ combined military capabilities make it the most formidable power in the Middle East.
Such combination of an intrinsic composition and political, economic and military structure helped the GCC withstand subsequent political and military storms in the last four decades: Iran-Iraq war in 1908-1988, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, September 11 attacks on the US that led to both the war on terror and the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the so-called Arab Spring which led to a series of military conflicts in the region and the rise of terror groups such as Daesh.
Today, the GCC looks beyond the Qatar crisis to restore its active role regionally and globally. By turning the page on that rift, the group will have more complicated geostrategic and geopolitical issues to address, mainly Iran and Turkey.
Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile in violation of its international obligations continue to pose the most immediate threat to the security of the Gulf region. Iran’s belligerent foreign policy, which seeks to expand its influence in the region through arming and funding proxy militias, including terror groups, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen is a main source of instability in the Middle East. It has shunned all goodwill initiatives by the GCC to cooperate in preserving the security and stability of this region, as well as the calls to solve peacefully the major issue of its occupation of the three UAE islands.
With the upcoming US administration of Joe Biden’s apparent plan to revive the Iran nuclear deal, the GCC today, following the end of the Qatar crisis, is in a position to ensure that its united voice is present on the negotiation table.
As for Turkey, the other power that seeks to realise ‘an imperial dream’ of regional hegemony, its military presence in Qatar is understandably a source of worry to other GCC countries. Turkey and its relations with the Arab world will certainly be one of the major issues to be ironed out by the GCC states in the next few weeks and months. Turkey needs to pay attention to the new GCC developments carefully.
It is an important player and a potential political and trade partner of the GCC if the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government gives up its aggressive moves in the region and chooses instead to adopt a friendly discourse. It could start with ending its blind support to the extremist groups and exit Libya, Syrian and Iraq.
With Gulf post-pandemic economic recovery in full swing and the Qatar rift over leading to a more united block that is able to deal with the big picture issues crucial to its security and future, 2021 is poised to be the year of the GCC.