Since the fourth quarter of last year, Saudi-Qatari relations have been witnessing important positive steps on the road to ending the state of estrangement that had beset these relations and afflicted them with a degree of stagnation since 2002.
In September 2007, a summit meeting was held in Jeddah that brought together King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the custodian of the two holy shrines, and Sheikh Hamad ibn Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar. This meeting was also attended by senior officials from the two countries. The most prominent features of this summit – that took many observers by surprise – was the affirmation by both sides of their sincere desire and firm determination to purify the hearts and intentions, to close the past page, to overcome the state of tension and misunderstanding that marred fraternal relations between the two brotherly countries for many years, and to establish firm relations based on cooperation and coordination.
Despite the importance that the Saudi-Qatari summit represented, some analysts and observers believed at the time that the attempt sat rapprochement between the two countries amounted to no more than a “temporary honeymoon” necessitated by the Qatari leadership’s desire to pave the way for the success of the Gulf summit that was later held in the Qatari capital of Doha in December of the same year. Some argued that the aim of the visits of the Qatari leaders to Saudi Arabia was a short-term objective that was tactical in nature and intended to procure the Saudi leadership’s approval to participate in the Doha summit in order to ensure the success of the Gulf summit.
Today, praise be to God, it seems that the fears and speculations that some analysts propagated regarding the present and future of Saudi-Qatari relations since the convocation of the Jeddah summit between the two countries were not justified. In the past six months, these relations gained a fresh impetus through repeated summit meetings between the two countries as well as exchanged visits of senior officials in the two countries.
These efforts bore fruit in making tangible progress in the Saudi-Qatari relations in all fields. The visit to Doha planned by Saudi Crown Prince His Highness Prince Sultan Bin-Abdulaziz comes within the framework of strengthening the march of cooperation and coordination that led to the “diplomacy of the fresh page” in the relations between the two countries.
The efforts of His Highness the Saudi Crown Prince are in fact an expression of the solid and firm conviction of the leadership of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the impetus toward rapprochement and reconciliation between the two fraternal countries strengthens their common interests and consolidates joint Gulf action within the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC]. All this will crystallize a more effective and cohesive Arab stand to face the major big challenges facing the region at present.
The positive developments in the Saudi-Qatari relations maybe understood within the framework of the joint realization of the GCC countries in general – particularly the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar -that these six countries are sailing in the same boat and facing the same destiny.
The dangers and security challenges facing the Gulf region and the Arab homeland in general will not exclude anyone from their woes and dire consequences, particularly in light of the growing threats with strategic dimensions generated by US, Israeli, and Iranian policies separately or collectively. The countries of the GCC are firmly convinced that the stability and security of the Gulf region cannot be established and maintained isolated from the dangerous developments transpiring in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon.
This is in addition to the dangers of the Iranian ambitions that aim at imposing hegemony on the region, expanding its spheres of influence at the expense of the Arabs, and exploiting the Arab issues in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon as cards in administering the regional and international relations of Iran. All this is taking place within a state of vagueness and confusion regarding the policy and stands of the next US Administration toward the region and its main security issues. This is clearly apparent in the vague and conflicting signals that the US presidential candidates are making every day regarding the decisions and stands they will adopt toward our fateful issues.
Regarding bilateral relations within the Gulf States, no one expects the stands of all the GCC countries on all the issues to be “totally identical”. The GCC member states are all sovereign states and each one of them has its own geopolitical and economic particularities and its own interests and strategic calculations. No doubt, these particularities also apply to the relations and stands between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates [UAE] and other Gulf relations. This is particularly true when the issue is related to the language of discourse with Iran that may arouse agreement or disagreement in content or in style.
Therefore, what we wish for realistically and practically and what the difficult circumstances that we as Arabs or Gulf peoples are passing through require clear distinction between strategic issues dealing with existence, security, and identity that should be agreed upon at least on the level of principles and goals, and between marginal issues on which visions and stands may differ. In all circumstances, the issue does not lie in diversity and differences within the Gulf home – since one cannot visualize the establishment of a group or a bloc of countries without having differences – but in the way differences are handled leading at the end of the day to a consensus or at least to a neutralization of the elements of the differences.
This requires the consolidation of consultations, cooperation, and coordination in order to reach stands with clear features and dimensions that can be understood by those far and near and that constitute a “united Gulf stand” that will be the solid prop and support of the pan-Arab stand. In other words, proceeding from respect for and appreciation of the particularities without sacrificing consensus, no one is asking the Gulf leaders to speak with one language -although it is required and encouraged in confronting the crises that are buffeting the region – but at least in a language that is united in its objectives and that stems from the realization of the common dangers facing us all. We have advanced a lot in respecting the particularities of each Gulf state but, at the same time, we have to develop a unified groundwork that ensures the protection of common interests with strategic dimensions. For instance, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are at the end of the day – and despite the marginal difference in stands or in style – two states that share the same Gulf security concerns and face the same limited options on the ground which should lead to the adoption of close or concordant strategic decisions.
Finally, the Saudi and Qatari peoples look forward to serious action to strengthen the political concord that was achieved in the past few months and promoting it to economic integration between the two countries and cooperation and coordination in various fields, including the confrontation of the danger of terrorism. All this should strengthen the fraternal march and ensure the continuity of the joint interests of the two fraternal peoples in their bilateral as well as Gulf framework. For instance, in the field of economic integration, there are wide scopes to establish joint economic projects between the two neighborly countries. The economic and political benefits of such projects cannot be ignored, particularly in the field of developing energy resources, including the generation of electric power using Qatar’s gas and exporting it via Saudi Arabia not only to the Gulf states whose needs for electric power are growing more than 7% annually but also to neighboring countries that are suffering from the dire need for electricity, such as Iraq. Furthermore, natural gas is the main source of energy in expanding the petrochemical industry in the Gulf countries.