The Foreign Minister of Oman, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, wanted his interview with Al-Hayat to be revealing. In his first answer, he openly confirmed to readers that the Gulf was not ready for any rotation of power, given its high cost and the bitter conflict — nonexistent in the Gulf region — that might emerge between social segments.
He openly declared that Gulf states shared their wealth, which is worth billions, with their Arab counterparts out of their conviction that all Arab states are united under the banner of Arabism and are all in the same boat. However, the latter said, “Destiny had other plans. This was the case in 2011, and we are still suffering the repercussions to this date.”
Alawi seemed concerned by the actions of some Arab states that he did not name — but tackled later on — and said an irreparable harm was done, alluding to the shocking positions adopted by the same Arab states.
He believed that this situation was due to the Gulf states not troubling themselves to learn Arab history. He said, “I am an Arab from Oman, but I know nothing about Tunisians, for instance, except their appearance. I do not know enough about the nature of Tunisians, or even Libyans. We do not bother to read history or recommend that others do so. What is the history of Arabs? When we help out a fellow Arab, we are supposed to know his history. However, when the damage was done, we found that the Arabs we were supporting were not who we thought they were, and now we know how they act by looking at their reality.”
Regarding the Gulf states, the veteran minister believed there are differences between the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), differences that are inevitable and a rule of life.
However, Alawi expressed his confidence in the stability of Gulf states. He confirmed that they were able to contain their “normal” differences and have managed to end the conflict with Qatar internally. It did so without resorting to mediators from outside the GCC, which asserted that it did not and would not allow such intervention.
Yet, according to Alawi, the Gulf states’ cohesion is not enough to transform the GCC into a union as some member states aspire to. He suggested that the charter of the council, which proposed turning the council into a union, was drafted at a time when Arab nationalism was widespread, but which was long gone and irrelevant today. Alawi told Al-Hayat that the GCC countries decided that it was better to leave this matter to the generations to come.
Concerning the Omani mediation between Iran and the United States, which stirred up a wide Gulf controversy, Alawi was able to understand the recurrent questions in this regard and concluded that this mediation would be beneficial for the Gulf and the region.
He pointed out that the United States and Iran seemed convinced that the available choices were limited: Either hold a real dialogue or head toward a deadly conflict. Therefore, they opted for direct discussions through a mediator.
The text of the interview follows:
Al-Hayat: Some GCC foreign ministers have been assuming their positions for decades now. When do you think they will leave their posts and make way for others?
Alawi: When God decides so. We do not serve a party, but rather a philosophy. We continue to serve a specific country or countries along with our colleagues. Western democracy is based on the alternation of power that results in a bitter conflict between social segments. This does not exist in Gulf states. Only good deeds will remain and the corrupt persons will be destroyed by their own acts of corruption.
Al-Hayat: How do you diagnose the situation of the Gulf states after the withdrawal of ambassadors [from Qatar] and the latent conflicts?
Alawi: This type of diagnosis is different from that given to a patient by a knowledgeable physician. The latter deals with a determined case that he probably had diagnosed thousands of times before, and over which he has full control. Not only does politics have influence, but it is also influenced. Regardless of what we hear, see or speak, the pureness of Gulf people remains natural without any embellishment or [artificial] refinement. Yet, the events in the region and their repercussions on Gulf states on all levels were not expected, since the Gulf states have always been active in joint Arab action and eager to extend a helping hand to their Arab brothers at all times. However, the Gulf or Arab history is currently witnessing a change. This change is not related to development, because all Gulf states have already achieved a remarkable level of development that does not need to be analyzed.
Gulf states have used the wealth that God bestowed upon them to achieve development at all levels. They used their resources in good faith to develop Gulf societies. Moreover, these countries share the funds and oil resources, that are known across the world, with Arabs and non-Arabs. This is evidenced by the investment funds allocated with good intentions for the support of Arab and Islamic countries.
These countries are evolving. This progress does not happen overnight. There were possibilities and convictions that these available resources must be used to help others. Billions were spent during the past 40 years. These are astronomical expenses that were not properly managed sometimes. Yet, the Gulf embraced Arab brotherhood and the Arabism cause. We are all in the same boat. However, the wind goes against the wish of the ships. This was the case in 2011 and we are still suffering to this date the relevant repercussions. But as they say, this is a passing cloud over our heads.
Al-Hayat: What about the differences that reached the heart of Gulf states, most recently the withdrawal of ambassadors?
Alawi: I always say that differences are a means of expression. Disagreements may occur between family members.
Al-Hayat: Do you expect escalation?
Alawi: What I mean here is that there are various disagreements, which is normal among humans. But these disagreements are not the essential matter. As people saw it, this disagreement was a serious issue that is unusual and not supposed to happen. We are humans and we must accept reality and the current situation we are witnessing. We disagree and express ourselves in different ways. At this stage, each expresses his disagreement with others by showing some discomfort and taking actions.
Al-Hayat: However, the internal Gulf disagreements used to remain concealed.
Alawi: As long as we are united, these problems may be revealed. These type of disagreements occur in any Arab or Muslim state and this is the rule of life.
Al-Hayat: What is the role of the Sultanate of Oman? Did it act as a mediator between neighboring countries?
Alawi: I think we already went through this. The matter is closed.
Al-Hayat: Did you play this role?
Alawi: This matter is closed.
Al-Hayat: Are the ambassadors’ crisis and the Gulf dispute over?
Alawi: These issues are over, and no one from outside the Gulf intervened. We did not and we will not allow it.
Al-Hayat: Why aren’t the ambassadors back [in Doha]?
Alawi: You can say they are on a vacation and they may return. This is not a problem.
Al-Hayat: Don’t you think that the new and traditional media are using a language that adds fuel to the fire?
Alawi: Of course. No one can stop them. This is a historical stage that the Gulf citizens are going through. I always believed, and I still do, that this is normal since we are in the final stages of the [creation of a] national state. For instance, you still say I am Saudi and I still say I am Omani. The Gulf identity still involves these means of differentiation and this is a well-known matter. When will we stop using these means? The Gulf identity is the subject on which the Gulf union is based, but we are not qualified for it now.
Al-Hayat: You know that Article 4 of the GCC charter stipulates that the council is established in order to achieve unity among its members?
Alawi: The term “in order” reflects an aspiration … which may or may not be achieved. It will definitely not be achieved in the near future. This matter is related to the unity of the Arab nation and drew its inspiration from the principles of Arab nationalism. We are Arabs and the people of the Arab nationalism time are also Arabs who had a single objective related to Arab nationalism and Arab unity. But this time is long gone.
Al-Hayat: Don’t you think that the existing risks and challenges drive you toward union and unity?
Alawi: There are numerous risks in the world. Thankfully, the risks we are facing are less dangerous, and we can confront them with powerful strength and good faith toward others. If we had acted like others wanted us to, we would have encountered very serious risks and issues. Every man shall only have what he intended and thankfully, Gulf leaders have very good intentions.
Al-Hayat: Some Gulf countries do not want to get involved in problems, and they do not interfere in the affairs of others, but others do intervene and interfere.
Alawi: Arab countries have gone through this phase. Some had great expectations for others, but we only knew superficial things about each other. I am an Arab from Oman, but I know nothing about Tunisians, for instance, except their appearance. I do not know enough about the nature of Tunisians, or even Libyans. We do not bother to read history or recommend that others do so.
What is the history of Arabs? When we help out a fellow Arab, we are supposed to know his history. However, when the damage was done, we found that the Arabs we were supporting are not who we thought they were, and now we know how they act by looking at their reality.
When we discussed the ways to assist them, we did not know what was hidden under the surface. Yet, it is still possible to help them, in light of what we know now.
Al-Hayat: Do the countries of the GCC ask member states who are meddling into other [countries] affairs to stop it, or do you pay compliments to each other?
Alawi: It is a foregone conclusion. Meddling in the affairs of others is unacceptable for us and the world, and it is stipulated in international covenants. I meddle in my brother’s affairs in good faith, to help him when I want to. I do not know his character, but while willing to help, I may find out that I did wrong to him.
Yet, if I find out [that I did wrong to him] once and twice, I should question myself. Thus, we should reconsider our actions to be able to help others in a more efficient way, which is in our best interest. We must help others, and it is our destiny to help them. Yet, helping them must be in a correct, genuine and clear way.
Al-Hayat: Oman has conducted a mediation that resulted in a nuclear deal between Iran and the P5 +1 countries [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany]. Was this mediation carried out at the request of the United States or Iran? Or was it at the initiative of Muscat itself? Why did Muscat omit telling its neighboring countries that there was a mediation and talks between Iran and the United States, and that it is the one hosting this mediation?
Alawi: I understand why you asked this question. Many people ask why this and why that. First, just like our GCC fellow countries, we are keen to provide the whole region with the means necessary to establish stability, as our development and ability to assist others in the Arab world will only continue if there is stability. When we are unstable, for reasons of our own or of others, we are not able to evolve. For this reason, Oman considers [stability], which it seeks to achieve, a basic principle of its foreign policy.
We are aware and we know that many of our fellow Arab and Gulf countries do not have good ties with the United States or Iran. Therefore, the potential [scope of interference] in this regard should be accepted by all of us. This means that the GCC has a limited potential [scope of interference] between a country and another, in terms of the inexistent, hampered or endangered interests.
First, in Oman, and according to the standards of the Omani politics, we believe in dialogue, which has not been interrupted despite our disagreements. We need to talk until we get rid of our differences at any phase. This has provided us with an environment allowing us to move with some flexibility.
Second, our ties with the conflicting parties in the nuclear file, namely Washington and Tehran, are based on reality, honesty and transparency. We accept what we believe is true, and we refuse what we believe is untrue. Both the US and Iran are now convinced that they have to agree with each other. In the previous administration, US President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were not ready to understand that they needed to come to terms. Yet, both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani have a different opinion. Therefore, both sides have the will, knowing that the time [to settle the differences] has come, and that an alternative [plan] would be a catastrophe. Moreover, we have found an opportunity in all this. If this [deal] provides all of us with natural and genuine stability in the region, so why not support it?
In a summit meeting that was held in Kuwait after its liberation, I remember that the leaders had agreed that the Iranian nuclear issue is an international issue, in which we do not interfere at all. There was talk that this issue affects us one way or another, and is associated with the P5 +1 countries. Yet, the leaders said no.
This has persisted and we believe that this is of great interest. Certainly there are those who consider that Iran, with its 90 million people, has a philosophy that is different from ours and is more powerful than we can bear. Thus, it it is better for us if it engages in a problem with others. While others consider that no matter what, Iran has been a neighboring country through history, and it is better to have a common conviction [with Iran] than permanent differences. As a result, the mediation was conducted.
Al-Hayat: Does this mean Oman is the one that initiated the mediation?
Alawi: I cannot say that it has initiated the mediation, but the stability issue and our evolving ties with both parties were the main factors behind the [settlement] of the US-Iran dispute. Yet, both sides were looking for inputs and outputs of their internal convictions, not that of Oman, or a side without the other. Each party wanted to achieve a great part of its own goals.
Al-Hayat: When I asked you about the mediation, I meant did they come to you and say, “We want you to host the talks”?
Alawi: It did not happen overnight. The details of the mediation took years, and a long period of time to be finalized. This is probably because, unlike our fellow Gulf and other countries, we do not have a problem with both Iran and the United States.
Al-Hayat: Yet, the Gulf has strongly criticized Oman [for the mediation].
Alawi: Honestly, the mediation issue is raised by us, the GCC, in every meeting between us and US officials. The latter have expressed their commitment to Gulf countries, and their perspective regarding this issue through all these years since the era of [former US President Ronald] Reagan. Thus, there was nothing we could have said on behalf of others, be they Iranians or Americans, since they have direct connections with Gulf countries.
Al-Hayat: The GCC follows a single system and you are members of a single council, etc.?
Alawi: Right, but this issue pertains to the American and Iranian sides, and they both have connections with Gulf countries. They can talk together on this issue. The Americans believe that there is a lack of conviction regarding the US-Iran rapprochement. This is why they decided to remain silent, preferring to keep that as a secret. Yet, they both agreed that they have reached a point where they either dialogue and reach convictions, or engage in a real struggle, knowing that the struggle will be deadly. They preferred to take the other option, which is direct talks through a mediator.
Al-Hayat: Oman sometimes announces through statements that the presence of a political consistency within the GCC is not necessary. Doesn't it oppose the ground upon which the GCC was founded?
Alawi: No, nothing indicates that there must be political consistency. However, we must show mutual respect where an incoherence of views may exist, without losing consensus. This is the path we have followed, because the GCC charter — which was discussed during the early days of its formation — stipulates that resolutions require a unanimous vote.
Al-Hayat: Are the resolutions currently being adopted through voting?
Alawi: No, some countries rejected the voting process. We are six countries who voted in favor of the voting, but they represented the majority. Meetings [within the GCC] start off with disagreements and end up in a unanimous agreement. Since we have the desire to evolve, we postpone and put off to another stage what we cannot do.
Al-Hayat: There are previous statements where you commented on the GCC countries inviting Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC, and you said that the council should not replace the Arab League. Do you not think that these statements are an accusation that the GCC countries are seeking the dismantlement of the Arab League, through the adhesion of Jordan, Morocco and Egypt?
Alawi: This will happen. These countries are building a political entity within the Arab group of which they are a member. Yet, the GCC has its own singularity as one region, and its people have a common singularity as well. The council [was established] by agreement with the Arab countries, and if we reach out to those we love and hate and ask them to join the council, there would be a different organization.
Al-Hayat: What about a larger regional council that includes Iraq and Iran, and which Oman has called for?
Alawi: This is not true, we did not call for it. A meeting on maritime navigation in the Gulf was held in 1976 or 1977, and it was attended by Iraq and Iran. It focused on the navigation in the straits and the Gulf. This meeting was held in Muscat, but it did not reach any results. It was a single meeting and it ended, because it discussed a topic that was originally submitted to the maritime law conference, which is the navigation in the straits, including the Strait of Hormuz. Some supported the free navigation in the Gulf. Yet, the law stipulates that transit navigation is not free, which is a legal definition. Since the whole world has agreed on the principle of the “non-suspendable transit passage, and that if free, it will be another issue,” the initial idea and talks about a regional council were over. In light of the cease-fire [following the Iran-Iraq war], the Security Council called on regional countries to adopt a set of measures to achieve peaceful stability in the region, namely in the Gulf countries, Iran and Iraq.
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