Gulf States Rapprochement with Qatar – An Assessment

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Saudi Arabia, along with UAE, Bahrain and Egypt, has recently concluded the accord with Qatar which have led to an end of “Qatar Crisis”. The crisis which started in 2017 was mainly initiated due to the concerns of Gulf States regarding the Qatar’s ties with Iran and Muslim Brotherhood. This led to the complete blockade of Qatar by the GCC states in order to upset Qatar’s economy. The policy was expected to force Qatar to change its regional policy. However, despite of GCC pressure, Qatar managed to sustain its economy as well as maintained its relations with Iran.

The Al-Ula declaration of revitalizing of ties between GCC and Qatar came amidst the ongoing peace deals in the region. The opening up of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Gulf States of Bahrain and UAE along with other Arab states – Morocco and Sudan – reflected the US desire of unifying its allies in the region. Although, the rapprochement was apparently finalized through the mediation of Kuwait and Oman – who remained neutral in the intra-GCC rivalry, yet the US effort of bringing the GCC states closer to each other cannot be ignored. The assumption is further strengthened by the presence of Kushner in the Al-Ula meeting.

The rapprochement has been motivated due to the ever-changing regional geopolitical environment and resulted as the outcome of two factors. Firstly, the US desire to disengage from the regional conflicts without compromising on regional security, pushed the policymakers in Washington to devise such a framework which could unify the US bloc in the Middle East. This would allowed US to minimize its operational and security cost while the regional allies would themselves manage their security. The second factor which stirred the reconciliation between the Gulf States was the security concern in post-Trump era. Arab states, mainly Saudi Arabia, are sceptical of Joe Biden’s policies for the region. It is speculated that the enthusiasm and the personal bond which Saudi Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, enjoyed with Trump would wither away in the Biden tenure. Hence, MBS is keen to formulate the alternative policy to deduce the regional security framework by the Arabs themselves if the US neglects their security demands.

However, it is important to note that the recent reconciliation was merely termed as “declaration” and not a “comprehensive deal”. This suggests that Gulf States are still unable to convince Qatar regarding the fulfilment of their demands. On the other hand, Qatar’s Foreign Minister has reiterated that the recent breakthrough in ties with Gulf States would not have any impact on its relations with Iran and Turkey. This is further evident as both Iran and Turkey hailed the reconciliation and the steadfastness of Qatar amidst pressure. Nevertheless, at the practical level, the economic dependency of Qatar on Iran and Turkey is expected to reduce, especially in the domain of Air Traffic and goods transport. The reopening of Saudi-Qatar border would restore the economic relations at the pre-2017 stage. It is also vital as the Gulf States are already aiming at the diversification of their energy-based economies. The unification of Gulf States would mean the acceleration in their economic efforts and eventually establishing an interconnected Arab region.

Lastly, it is also significant to consider the role of UAE in the reconciliation process. UAE had been the most defiant stakeholder in the entire Gulf Crisis. Unlike Saudi Arabia, UAE is more assertive and vigilant in its efforts of expanding its influence. The aggressive support of UAE to secessionist factions in Yemen, sponsoring of Khalifa Haftar forces in Libya, building of Nuclear Power Reactor, the ambitious plan of space exploration and the watershed event of initializing the diplomatic ties with Israel, all suggest that UAE is preparing itself to counter any challenge in the region. Hence, it has developed the more antagonistic approach towards Qatar’s role in the region and sees Saudi Arabia as the over-obsessive player regarding its security. Conclusively, it is evident that the primary drive of reconciliation was pushed by Saudi Arabia due to its fears of Iran and the uncertainty of its relations with US in the future. Thus, the divergent views on reconciliation along with the unresolved issues, do not offer a sustainable future for this rapprochement and for the Gulf unity.

The author is an MPhil scholar of International Relations based in Islamabad. He writes for national and international news blogs. His main focus in on Middle East and South Asia.

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