A three-year boycott of Qatar by four other Middle Eastern countries that disfigured Gulf cooperation and raised concerns in the West about a strengthened regional role for Iran and Turkey has come to a stuttering end.
” The kingdom is happy to welcome you,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said as he greeted the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, on the Al-Ula airport tarmac at the north of Medina, on Tuesday.
With varying degrees of enthusiasm, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would end their air, land and sea boycott of the small gas-rich state of Qata In The boycott had started in June 2017, when the four countries accused Qatar of supporting Islamist groups in the region and of having warm ties to Iran.
In his remarks to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit on Tuesday, Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, emphasized the need for Arab unity to confront Iran. “Today we need such unity to counter the threats against our region represented by the Iranian regime’s nuclear program, its ballistic missiles and the sabotage agenda adopted by its sectarian representatives,” he said.
” This demands that the international community work seriously to oppose these harmful practices that threaten the peace of the region and the world.”
As part of the deal, Qatar agreed to freeze a number of high-profile legal claims and sign a non-aggression pact with boycotting states aimed at ending a media war waged by websites and social media influencers.
But most of the 13 political demands of the boycotting states, such as ending support for the Muslim Brotherhood and shutting down a number of media operations, including Al Jazeera, have been quietly dropped. Qatar has said all along during the Kuwait-mediated negotiations that submitting to the demands would have meant effectively losing sovereignty over its foreign policy and becoming a cipher for Saudi Arabia.
The summit is seen as an attempt by Riyadh to clear the ground for a better relationship with the incoming administration in the US, despite the fact that actual reconciliation was negotiated by Kuwait and Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the outgoing president of the USA, Donald Trump. Kushner flew to the top to celebrate the end of the rift.
The boycott, which was led by Saudi Arabia, is likely to meet opposition from Joe Biden’s national security team. It was also feared that it could benefit Turkey and Iran by giving them the opportunity to bring Qatar closer to their orbit. The recent normalization of relations between some Gulf states and Israel was also contributing to new thinking.
However, the dispute has left scars in the region and some analysts say fundamental ideological differences have not been resolved, including Qatar’s belief in its role as a mediator in disputes in Africa and the Middle East. Qatar has long argued that trying to suppress legitimate grievances with a security-based response fuels terrorism.
On Twitter, former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani wrote: “While I certainly welcome the end of the crisis from the bottom of my heart, I appeal and invite everyone to take lessons to avoid the outbreak of such crises in the future. To ensure this, there must be a frank and in-depth study of the causes of this crisis and the psychological wounds it left behind, which afflicted the entire Gulf community and shaken confidence in the future.
Reconciliation, in doubt until recent days, means that, subject to Covid-19 disruption, Qatar will be able to host the World Cup in 2022 without the distraction of a neighborhood dispute. There is also hope that the fractured personal relationships between families hailing from different parts of the Gulf will recove In
In practical terms, reconciliation means that Qatar will no longer have to pay Iran to fly over its airspace, which was costing Qatar millions of dollars in fares.
Despite Prince Mohammed’s focus on confronting the threat from Iran, Qatar is unlikely to sever its ties as the two countries share a giant gas field and Qatar does not believe the 2015 nuclear deal should be terminated.
Reflecting his country’s ambivalence about ending the boycott, UAE Foreign Minister D In AnwaVargassh tweeted that while “a bright new chapter had opened,” there was more work to be done.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism