For a period of 255 days the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) faced one of its worst crises, one which raised the likelihood of seeing some member states being pushed out of the organization.
The period of 255 days is the officially acknowledged one, at least, for the crisis which involved Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on the one hand, and Qatar on the other. The three countries recalled their ambassadors from Doha, and—in an unprecedented move—froze bilateral relations, before the fog of the crisis cleared following Riyadh’s official announcement of the end of the dispute and Qatar’s return to the GCC’s embrace.
From the start of the crisis, several things were clearly visible: Qatar’s burning desire to end the dispute in any way possible, its recognition of many of the reservations expressed by the three countries and the need to avoid acting in an arrogant manner, and its signing of the Riyadh agreement mandating its non-interference in the affairs of other member states. This is not to mention the endless high-level official visits and the diplomatic messages being sent in all directions.
Indeed, Doha never stopped knocking on all doors, something which embarrassed the other three countries who said they wanted actions not words. Qatar’s desire to repair what was broken was strong. At the same time, there was the problem of the Qatari side not being able to earn the trust of the other three countries and convince them of its seriousness and ability to address the roots of the problem. After several attempts from Qatar to bridge the gap, and following the tug of war over guarantees that past violations would not be repeated, wise steps were required in order to guide the GCC out of one of its worst crises. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz took on the historic duty of resolving the crisis, not because he is the King of Saudi Arabia but, first and foremost, because he is the most senior member of the Gulf house.
“King Abdullah is the head of the Gulf family,” a Gulf minister told me when we spoke about the reconciliation. He added: “We have no doubts about his wisdom and we believe that he takes into account everyone’s interests, not just those of his own country.”
One question remains unanswered, however: Is the crisis over? Will the people of the Gulf innocently sing again, “Our Gulf region is united”?
It is premature to think that the crisis has been completely resolved. We should admit that only some of the roots of the problem have been addressed. In addition, some details remain vague. Perhaps the coming months will be sufficient to demonstrate if the good intentions that have been expressed about putting the GCC’s general interests above the narrow ones of its member states are genuine. It should not be overlooked, however, that this acute crisis produced fierce reactions that went beyond those of previous inter-Gulf disputes. This was the case when some sides, affiliated with some parties involved in the dispute, lashed out at certain states or figures. These incidents will definitely not be forgiven, no matter how hard those who were responsible for them try to reach out to their brothers. There is a big difference between disagreeing with someone and registering one’s position through objective criticism on the one hand, and throwing the worst insults at someone on the other. It is true that the Gulf states have overcome their political differences and are quite pragmatic, but they do not forget personal differences and the insults that accompany them.
The GCC will witness a honeymoon period in the run-up to its forthcoming annual summit, scheduled to take place in Doha in December. This year’s summit was threatened with cancellation for the first time since the GCC was founded in 1981. Who knows, the honeymoon may last throughout the next year as Qatar chairs and plays host to the organization’s ministerial meetings. Such a scenario would be enough to suggest that what happened recently was a passing storm. Or is the sky still cloudy?
It would be dangerous if the crisis returned and the wound opened once again, God forbid. In this case, the crisis would certainly be more extreme, dangerous, and complex than before, and would produce decisions whose impact no one will be able to comprehend.
May the honeymoon last forever! Nevertheless, wishes need to be accompanied by deeds.