Widening Gulf

Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani’s decision to stay away from the December 9 Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh is the latest reminder of the growing disunity among the Gulf countries. Qatar, blockaded by three GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, and their non-GCC allies, has said it will not discuss a compromise unless the blockade is lifted. The Saudi-led bloc imposed it in June 2017, accusing Qatar of funding terrorism. But as Riyadh came under increasing global pressure after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in its consulate in Istanbul, it has shown signs of reconciliation. In October, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is believed to have ordered the Khashoggi hit, surprised observers by praising the Qatari economy. The personal invitation to the GCC meet from King Salman bin Abdulaziz to the Qatari Emir followed the Crown Prince’s remarks. But Qatar, a tiny kingdom but the largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, remains defiant. Doha has announced its decision to quit OPEC, the first Arab nation to do so since the cartel was formed in 1960. Though Qatar said the decision was not political, clearly its exit from OPEC was a snub to Saudi Arabia, its de facto leader. The blockade has triggered tensions among other GCC countries as well. Saudi Arabia is upset that Oman and Kuwait did not join the embargo. Kuwait was trying to mediate between the rivals camps, which hasn’t gone down well with Riyadh. Last September, the Crown Prince started a two-day tour of Kuwait. But ties were reportedly so tense that he left the country within a few hours. Oman continues to be independent of Saudi influence by keeping ties open with both Qatar and Iran. The blockade has made Qatar only more independent in its foreign policy decisions. It has stepped up assistance for Hamas in Gaza, accelerated a plan to allow Turkey to set up a military camp in the country and resisted calls to cut ties with Iran. The decision to quit OPEC and the Emir’s absence at the GCC meet (a state minister was sent to represent the country) point to an increasingly confident Qatar. But the intra-Gulf quarrels have dampened hopes for the integration of the region. The bloc, which once talked about a common Gulf currency and robust connectivity projects, is now a ghost of its old self. After the summit, the GCC issued a customary statement, emphasising regional stability and economic challenges. Even as the summit was on, Bahrain Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa criticised the Emir’s decision to skip the meet, while Doha slammed the communiqué for its failure to address the blockade. That is the state of affairs in the GCC.

Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/widening-gulf/article25760087.ece

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