On March 5, 2014, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced their decision to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar, on the sidelines of a long meeting between the foreign ministers of the Gulf countries in Riyadh.
The three countries said that their decision came as a result of Qatar not complying with decisions that had been agreed on previously. According to them, Doha was meddling in the internal affairs of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, and it did not honor the security agreement that was reached in Riyadh.
Qatar expressed its “regret and surprise” at the decision, but confirmed that it would not take a similar decision. Moreover, Qatar emphasized that its disagreement with the three GCC states revolves around issues “outside the framework of the GCC.” This was a reference to the power struggle between Qatar on one hand and the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the other, regarding the crises in other Arab states that are witnessing tensions, such as Egypt and Syria.
Rida al-Musawi, acting secretary-general of the National Democratic Action Society in Bahrain, told As-Safir that he agrees with the content of the Qatari statement, according to which the disagreement between the Gulf countries is based on issues outside the framework of the GCC. He noted that the disputes over dealing with the Egyptian and Syrian issues are evident, but he also did not ignore the presence of certain disagreements regarding GCC issues.
“Qatar constitutes a main player in the regional equation today. It has the biggest source of natural gas in the world, and it has been getting ready for years to welcome the FIFA World Cup in 2022. For this reason, construction works are constantly happening to prepare for this event. Therefore, the country is acting independently, without getting affiliated with other parties. The three Gulf countries have a problem dealing with this idea,” Musawi added.
“At the Arab level, relations between Egypt and Qatar are currently cold, even borderline negative. Meanwhile, the other Gulf countries — led by Saudi Arabia — are inclined to support the Egyptian army against the Muslim Brotherhood, which is itself supported by Qatar. At the internal level, the UAE is fighting the Muslim Brotherhood on its territories, pursuing them and handing them over to the judiciary,” Musawi continued.
With regard to Syria, Musawi said, “In Syria today, the Gulf states’ support for armed groups in the face of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime is declining, given the internal fights between these groups. Saudi Arabia and the UAE back some forces, while Qatar sides with the Brotherhood. This situation has tipped the scales.”
Musawi considers that the main point of disagreement lies in Qatar’s position towards the Brotherhood at the Arab level and the incidents in other Arab countries.
Political analyst and former Bahraini minister Ali Fakhro told As-Safir that he was shocked by the decision that the three Gulf states took and described it as “an escalation.”
“I think that this is not the way to behave in a council that is more than 30 years old and that constantly talks about integration, cooperation and reaching a state of union. I think European countries too have their differences and disagree on security and economic policies, in addition to other matters, but never has a country decided to withdraw its ambassador from another country,” he said.
Fakhro confirmed that the step involving the withdrawal of ambassadors “should have been the last resort, not the first one.”
“Based on my understanding of the regional policies, it seems to me that there are differences between Qatar on the one hand and many of the GCC countries on the other regarding Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Libya, as Qatar’s views and actions are radically different from those of the other countries,” Fakhro added.
Fakhro believed that the GCC should have met since the beginning of the Arab Spring to set limits to its reactions so as not to act randomly — as happened — and harm other countries and their policies and tarnish its own image.
He pointed out that one of results of the absence of a common vision toward current developments in the region is that “every state behaved solo and raced to be in control of the countries mired in unrest, not to mention the innuendoes that characterized the Gulf media between the different countries.”
Fakhro pointed out that these Gulf States, besides having different views at the overall Arab level, have different views about what is happening in the GCC countries themselves, such as Bahrain and Kuwait.
For his part, Jafar Shayeb, a Saudi writer and human rights activist, told As-Safir that the step taken by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain did not come as a surprise. “It is clear that there is no consensus in the GCC about foreign policies and that the GCC adopted divergent policies toward the Arab Spring events and what happened in the region in general,” Shayeb added.
Among the points of contention, Shayeb gives the example of Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and Egypt, a support criticized by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both of which consider it a threat to their national security.
“Although the Gulf States often address their internal differences without bringing them out into the open, it was clear, three weeks ago, that the situation was very tense between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It seemed that there were verbal altercations that led to the adoption of this convulsive resolution,” he added.
Shayeb said, “There has been ebb and flow in the ties for more than three years now, and there seems to be personal positions among the Gulf states leaders, which led to the aggravation of the dispute at this stage.”
Bahraini oppositionist Abdul Hadi Khalaf, a professor of sociology at Sweden's Lund University, told As-Safir, “The main problem is between Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the one hand, and Qatar on the other concerning the vision of these countries on the re-drafting of the Arab map.”
Khalaf said, “It seems that Qatar does not share with them the same plan, and it seems that the Qatari policy aims at maintaining the relationship between Doha and the Muslim Brotherhood, while Saudi Arabia and the UAE believe that they can recreate the Arab map without the Muslim Brotherhood and create Arab regulations that follow the ultimate authority.”
“Bahrain's decision was a foregone conclusion,” he added.
Khalaf tends to adopt the Qatari interpretation of the problem. He said, “The dispute is not over the security agreement (between the Gulf States), as there is a strong opposition to the agreement in Kuwait, as well as in the Sultanate of Oman.”
He believed that internal struggle for dominance is quite clear, as Saudi Arabia thinks that it is about time it became the strongest in the Gulf.
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