Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan
THE Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has once again adopted a right “policy option” at the right time by giving another chance for “burying the hatchet” and “promoting” greater regional socio-economic development and integration in the days to come. His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, said that the Gulf states had signed an agreement on regional “solidarity and stability” at GCC 41st annual summit aimed at resolving a three-year boycott against Qatar. Now the Al-Ula declaration signed at the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia brought the blockade of Qatar to a formal end. The GCC, a regional inter-governmental political and economic union consisting of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman remained disunited since 2017 because of a blockade against Qatar by the GCC countries. It emphasized Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability as well as the strengthening of friendship and brotherhood between GCC countries and people. Since June 2017, Qatar has remained under an air, land and sea embargo imposed by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt. The communiqué emphasized the completion of implementing previously agreed economic projects and strengthening of military integration among the member states to confront the challenges.
Now Riyadh has agreed to open its air space, borders and sea routes for Qatar which will definitely be a good “omen” for bilateral relations, trade & commerce, foreign direct investment, joint ventures and above all people-to-people contacts among the GCC countries. All the other participating countries will also follow Saudi Arabia to normalize ties with Qatar which will “diminish” “ill designs” of enemies of peace and harmony in the region and “deter” external schemes as well. Since 2017, Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries had some sever reservations against Qatar including alleged funding of terrorism and backing regional rival Iran. Being a staunch supporter of regional peace and harmony, the Saudi Crown Prince termed regional “unity” essential for combating potential challenges of the Iranian regime’s nuclear and ballistic missile program and its plans for sabotage and destruction. On its part, Doha always “denied” supporting terrorist groups. Now GCC has “resurrected” and is moving towards “reconstruction” of “derailed” bilateral or trilateral relations for achieving desired goals of socio-economic goals, energy cooperation, political consultation and last but not the least, business-to-business and people-to-people contacts. It has not been an easy path to reach at regional “reconciliation” in which “Kuwait” and “Oman” played “reconciliatory” roles but somehow, “paradigm shift” in the US Middle East Policy did not provide the “scope” and “space” for regional maneuvering in the past. But in the last days of US President Trump’s presidency things are again “aligned” and ties are again “reunited”. In another positive sign, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was greeted with a hug from bin Salman after arriving in the Saudi desert city of Al Ula to attend the GCC summit.
In his opening remarks during the GCC 41st summit, the Saudi Crown Prince called for “regional unity” to confront Iranian efforts “to shake up the stability of the region.” He also thanked GCC leaders for their bold steps and expressed his gratitude toward the United States and Kuwait for their roles in brokering reconciliation. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner also attended the GCC meeting. Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council signed the Al-Ula declaration, named after the Saudi city where the summit was held, and a final communiqué was inked. It hoped for a deal to end the “impasse” were raised overnight when Saudi Arabia announced it would open its borders to Qatar despite lingering issues between the neighbours. Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum called the summit “positive” unifying ranks and establishing “fraternity”. He rightly termed the GCC’s “unity” and “harmonious” stance for further enhancing its “genuine” “strength”, “cohesion” and “cooperation” as well as Arab depth and stability. Being a prominent regional expert on GCC & MENA, this scribe terms “Al-Ula Joint Declaration” a “giant step” towards normalization of ties and beginning of a process to heal the damage caused over the past three and a half years because of disunity among the GCC member countries since 2017. Moreover, the signing of “solidarity and stability” agreement is a “momentous” geopolitical and geostrategic development to remove political and socio-economic “barriers” to overcome the “deepest rift” in the 40-year history of the GCC, ahead of Joe Biden taking over the presidency of the United States from Donald Trump on January 20. Now “Quartet” seems to realize that regional integrity, peace and harmony demands reconciliation with “Qatar” for confronting various challenges for “collective survival”, “prosperity” and “advancement”.
Unfortunately, international media projected it as re-emergence of a grand anti-Iran alliance which is untrue and fabricated. It has not been a journey from “bang to whimper” but gradual realization of unity, harmony and peace among the six-member countries of the GCC in which all members are winners and no losers. Moreover, during the last three years, many international power brokers somehow succeeded to consolidate their “footprints” in the region which now will be “out-rooted” for achieving the greater “regional integration” in terms of diverse sectors of economy, politics, civility and will reorganize public diplomacy. The communiqué of the GCC 41st annual summit was named in honour of the two great visionary leaders of regional politics, the departed souls of Sheikh Sabah and Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman. Now a “new window” of opportunity has opened for the GCC to ensure that its own settlement dispute mechanism is utilized to manage any future disputes that may arise among member states, and that regional power plays, like that of 2017, cannot be repeated.
Al-Ula declaration is a “symbolic victory” of the GCC against all regional “spoilers” and “extra-regional” “power brokers” to stay away from any “manipulation” and “extended proxies”. The communiqué stated that the GCC leaders will continue the march of unity and cooperation in order to achieve common interests to serve their people and consolidate security and stability in the region. I conclude that signing of the final communiqué, “Al-Ula Declaration,” marks the complete end to the dispute with Qatar and the return of diplomatic relations and looking forward to a future dominated by cooperation and respect in a way that preserves the security and stability of states because united we stand, disunited we fall.
—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.