Doha Summit: Towards a new strategic contract

Syed Omar By Dr Mohamed Kirat (The writer is a professor of public relations and Mass Communication at the College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University.)

December 08, 2014 - 2:00:30 am The Peninsula



The ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain were recalled in March last year over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and accusations of interference in the internal affairs of other member states. The dispute was said to be over after an extraordinary meeting of GCC leaders in Riyadh last month. The meeting was seen as a final attempt to reach a compromise before the GCC summit, in Doha on December 9-10. The return of three Gulf ambassadors to Qatar after an unprecedented dispute will allow the annual GCC summit to meet as planned in December to focus on pressing regional and international issues.
Last month, the UAE declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, along with a number of other groups. Instead of making a decision that could have resulted in Qatar leaving the GCC, a compromise was found to move forward, with leaders from every state except Oman arriving in Riyadh for a fresh round of talks at the behest of the ustodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. The UAE delegation was represented at the meeting by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai; Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces; and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Qatar was represented by the Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. A statement on the GCC website said an agreement was made to begin “a new page that will present a strong base, especially in light of the sensitive circumstances the region is undergoing”. At the meeting, Qatar reportedly made a new commitment to honor an agreement not to interfere in the internal affairs of other GCC states. “The agreement was basically that, based on the collective security of the GCC, the behavior of one single state should not undermine the security of the other members. You can find this in any regional or international structure.”

The country’s state-backed Al Jazeera channel had allowed controversial preacher Yousuf Qaradawi to criticize the UAE on air, an act Emirati officials took as a threat to their security and territorial integrity.  Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood was also troubling to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which considers the group to be a potentially destabilizing force. Qatari officials viewed their relationship with the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups throughout the region as a way to expand its influence.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain see Iran as a destabilizing force and are concerned about Tehran gaining greater influence, especially following a possible deal with the international community over its nuclear program later this month. Holding the GCC meeting in December as planned will allow the GCC dignitaries to focus on issues other than internal challenges, to move from cooperation to unity. Saudi Arabia, the architect of the project, wants to make a push towards great integration. Along with other regional conflicts — from Yemen to Libya — another issue that will be focused on at the meeting will include countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
The Doha summit will adopt a new approach surrounding the relationship between the six member states of the GCC, and Egypt and Iran, primarily. This will be the summit that will lay out new policy orientations different from the previous ones that accompanied the Arab revolutions. It will be the summit of finalizing a new strategic contract towards a new order in the Arab world and a new Arab position in the regional balance of power. If the summit successfully overcomes the doubts that have marred the relationship between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and Bahrain on the one hand, and Qatar and Oman on the other, the GCC will engage in a qualitatively new era following this historic summit.

Relations with Egypt will be centre stage at the Doha summit, in fulfilment of the Saudi King’s appeals made at the Riyadh summit which he had convened. This is an absolute priority for Saudi and Emirati diplomacy and is not up for bargain.
In the mind of Saudi-UAE diplomacy the issues are too pressing to have room for incitement and ridicule. Saudi and the UAE want to convince Emir H H Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar to join the strategic contract that will launch the new Arab order and position in the regional balance of power vis-à-vis Iran, Turkey, and Israel, and which requires restoring Egypt as an essential Arab state in this balance. This in turn, according to Saudi-Emirati diplomacy, requires Qatar — and any other Gulf country — to stop supporting the Muslims Brotherhood anywhere.

While Qatari policy may have assumed at one point that the Muslim Brotherhood constituted a ready-made springboard for regional and international influence, the Qatari policy desired in the Gulf today is for Qatar to join regional decision-making and the strategic contract as part of the bid for inter-Gulf harmony.
The Doha summit will be an important turning point in the Gulf and regional strategy, and will issue a clear stance on Egypt. Iran is the other issue in the regional challenges that will be addressed by the Doha summit, which will be marked by reaching out to the Islamic Republic of Iran to encourage it to adopt moderation. Gulf doubts regarding Iran’s ability to move away from hardliners persist, but the Gulf decision has been to highlight appreciation, support, and backing for a moderate Iran.
Qatar’s presidency of the GCC in 2015 will see a qualitative turning point in Gulf relations and in drafting the new Arab-regional order, providing that the commitments made at the Riyadh summit are fulfilled, led by those related to the issue of Egyptian-Qatari relations. GCC countries are meeting in Doha to engage in a unified strategy to face the many challenges that surround them.