DUBAI — This week’s Doha meeting with the emir of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates’ national security adviser and deputy prime minister is yet another sign of the gradually more frequent meetings between Qatari and Emirati high-level officials, demonstrating a normalization in relations after years of a political rift.
Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani received the United Arab Emirates’ national security adviser Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed and Deputy Prime Minister of the Presidential Court Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed on Wednesday to discuss “fraternal relations” and how to strengthen various domains of mutual interest, reported the UAE’s government news agency WAM.
Although immediate economic partnerships or deals secured at these meetings have not been announced, the meeting symbolizes that the two Gulf nations are headed in that direction.
Since the UAE and Qatar reconciled after nearly four years of rift in January 2021, expressions of camaraderie were conveyed in the form of shared national day celebrations in December, a month both countries commemorate their national independence.
In January of 2022, Qatar publicly expressed strong condemnation of the Houthi drone attack that targeted three fuel tanker trucks near Abu Dhabi and caused fires at the international airport killing three people, labeling it a terrorist act.
The Gulf dispute began in June 2017 with the halt of diplomatic ties and a blockade on Qatar issued by Egypt and fellow Gulf Cooperation Council Countries (GCC) Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.
Qatar was accused of supporting extremism because of its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood — which the four blockading countries had branded a terrorist organization — and for maintaining economic ties with Iran, with which Qatar shares its largest natural gas field, said the nonprofit public policy organization The Brookings Institution in Washington.
The three-and-a-half-year blockade of almost all trade, work and travel by air, land and sea ended in January 2021 with the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration in Saudi Arabia between the involved countries, brokered by the United States and Kuwait.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said that even though it is not so clearly evident, one has to read between the lines to see the gravity of the progress in the relations between Abu Dhabi and Doha.
“The fact that the meetings gradually became more frequent, more high-level, culminating now in positive state meetings — I think this is an indication that a lot of the issues that were being worked on behind the scenes have now progressed to the level where the relationship seems to be fully back on track,” Ulrichsen told Al-Monitor.
In February 2022, Qatari and Emirati delegations met for the third time since the signing of the Al-Ula Declaration a little more than a year earlier.
Ulrichsen also said that the 2022 World Cup held in Doha, the first Arab city in the event's history, was a very symbolic and public way of showing that the GCC was unified again and the blockade was an issue of the past.
Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, accompanied Dubai Crown Prince Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum to the opening of the World Cup in November, which was hosted by Doha.
The Dubai ruler praised Qatar’s successful hosting of the tournament as an achievement for the entire Arab region.
The UAE also granted multiple-entry visas for Hayya cardholders — the identification and means of entry into Qatar for ticket holders of the global games — with many World Cup attendees traveling back and forth between Doha and the UAE.
“You saw people from all over the Gulf go to Qatar, have fun, enjoy the games — including hundreds of thousands of Saudis. The blockade was different from previous disputes in the sense that it was obviously not just political; it actually had an impact on society because it involved the closure of borders, people being stopped from traveling. So the World Cup kind of brought everyone back together for the first time,” he said.
In January of 2023, Qatar’s Emir Al-Thani attended the presidential meeting hosted in the UAE capital with the title of Prosperity and Stability in the Region, which aimed to consolidate and deepen ties between countries of the GCC and also Egypt and Jordan. Saudi was remarkably absent from the meeting.
Ulrichsen said this image of the GCC leaders, despite Saudi Arabia's absence, was a major symbol of unity and a sign for what lies ahead, even though some aspects of the blockade still persist today.
“Some websites still remain blocked [between the two countries]. And there’s still the conviction in both Doha and Abu Dhabi that some of the information campaigns on one another are still active — maybe not directly, but through third parties or proxies. So I think there's still an element of suspicion on both sides and that may take longer to overcome,” said the author of the book “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis.”
The contentious issue of Iran as a perceived threat to the UAE and Saudi Arabia while being an important economic partner for Qatar remains on the table, but Ulrichsen said that each country is able to cooperate with one another to serve all of their shared interests.
Last month, both Qatar and the UAE decided to bring an end to a case that the prior raised at the United Nations World Court in 2018, alleging that the UAE had imposed measures that amounted to racial discrimination, the UN body said.
In 2022, another ad hoc Conciliation Commission was established to resolve an inter-State complaint lodged by Qatar against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, reported the UN, but it also was terminated due to the agreement of both countries.