Another setback for Saudi policy as the regime is forced to retreat on its threats against Qatar from where it had withdrawn its ambassador last month. Bahrain and the UAE had followed suit but Kuwait and Oman did not. An agreement has now been reached to patch differences and get back to business as usual--rubbing noses and kissing.
Friday April 18, 2014, 10:07 DST
If it really had been left out in the cold (or in the desert sun), Qatar is back into the GCC fold. At an ‘extra-ordinary’ meeting (what else can one expect from the Arabian potentates?) of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) held on April 17 in the Saudi capital Riyadh, they agreed to end tensions between Qatar and three other GCC members.
Strong differences had emerged between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over their divergent policies on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Saudi Arabia had participated in the plot to carry out the July 3, 2013 military coup against the government of Egypt’s first-ever democratically elected president, Mohamed Mursi.
The Saudis not only recognized the military-installed regime but immediately announced an aid package of $15 billion to shore up Egypt’s crumbling economy. In recent weeks, the Saudi regime has declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
Qatar was and remains a staunch supporter of the Brotherhood. It also hosts the Egyptian-born Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who has a special spot on Al Jazeera television with a viewership of nearly 60 million. Qaradawi has been given Qatari citizenship, a huge mansion to live in and maids and servants to look after his needs.
Doha’s independent stance on the Brotherhood irked the Saudis so much that they together with Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. The ailing Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal (he suffers from Parkinson’s disease) threatened to teach Qatar a lesson and demanded not only rectification of Doha’s conduct vis-à-vis the Brotherhood but that Al Jazeera must also be shut down.
On its part, Qatar played it cool. It did not withdraw its ambassadors from the three countries and worked with other members of the GCC—Kuwait and Oman—to lower tensions. This paid off in the form of the so-called extra-ordinary meeting in Riyadh (as a sop to the Saudis’ injured pride) to smooth things over.
In Thursday’s meeting, the ministers agreed that the policies of GCC member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other. The GCC statement also said that such policies must not affect the “sovereignty” of a member state.
The Saudis’ real beef with Qatar was that it was not sufficiently deferential to Riyadh and that Doha was pursuing a policy that was far too independent-minded. The Saudis felt that it was undermining their clout and interest.
In addition to support for the Brotherhood, the Saudis’ other concern was over Qatar’s overtures to Iran. The Saudi regime has been trying to paint Iran as a threat to the region, a view not shared by Qatar or indeed most of the others in the GCC. Oman, the UAE and Kuwait do not share this Saudi concern. That leaves tiny Bahrain that has little influence in the region.
For the Saudis, Bahrain is a watering hole where profligate Saudis go every Thursday to indulge in vices—drinking, gambling, prostitution etc—that are not publicly available in the Mutawwa-run desert kingdom.
Iran has made great effort to assuage concern among the regional countries. On April 15, Iran’s energetic Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif visited the UAE and met Shaykh Mohammed Maktum, the amir of Dubai and UAE’s vice president. The Dubai ruler has called for stronger ties with Iran and also supported its right to peaceful nuclear energy.
The Saudis fear that changes in regional and global political alignments are leaving them dangerously exposed. The winds of change are likely to blow their tents away, hence their erratic behavior.