A general view of the meeting of leaders during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Doha on December 9, 2014. Leaders of energy-rich Gulf monarchies meet to hammer out a common strategy to fight the threat from Islamic extremism and plunging oil prices. AFP
The most and perhaps only important achievement in the 35th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit is the holding of the summit itself. Just a few days before the summit, relations between the Gulf countries were marked with rivalry. For other achievements, refer back to the GCC “archive” since the section in charge of releasing press statements has accumulated sufficient “media achievements” with a seasonal validity. In short, the summit is a more like a “reunion” to crown the accomplishment of the reconciliation that took place after the Riyadh Supplementary Agreement on November 16.
The greatest challenge faced at the Doha summit is the ability of the GCC leaders to contain their rivalries, an essential part of which is due to the ramifications of the “Arab Spring,” especially those arising from the January 25 Revolution in Egypt. Accordingly, expectations at the summit were low and the summit’s sponsor and GCC leaders merely expressed convergent positions on controversial files.
The summit’s agenda, and thus the final statement, reveals the reality of the Doha summit, which is that its role is limited to taking positions rather than making decisions. The results issued before and after the summit fall under the context of mere “wishes,” especially with regards to the deferred projects discussed in previous Gulf summits, such as the establishment of a customs union, a Gulf bank and a standard card, achieving economic cooperation between the public and private sectors, and forming a Gulf union.
One day before holding the Doha summit, the Saudi government issued a statement that was titled by the Saudi media, “The Saudi Government’s Hopes” for the Doha summit. The statement issued by the Saudi Council of Ministers in its weekly meeting, chaired by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdel Aziz, expressed “wishes for the GCC leaders to achieve success and rectitude”. The statement lauded “the achievements and progress at the level of coordination and integration made by the GCC countries”.
Are there any indications of the real hopes of the Saudi government? The statement was a mere endorsement of an agenda that appeared to be packed with non-essential items, namely non-Gulf ones.
In form, the Doha summit was not at the same level of the leadership due to the absence of half of the leaders of GCC countries (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman) due to illness or political malingering, which makes any talk about a Gulf union mere archival “persistence”.
In substance, the final statement of the Doha summit was more like a political statement, or rather a political review of the regional and international situation. It did not tackle Gulf-related issues, whether at the Qatari or collective level.
According to Gulf media sources, the Doha summit has a Gulf title and an Arab dimension, but is not due to an inclination by the council's leaders to give greater attention to Arab affairs, but because the summit is not concerned with Gulf issues. The latter require suitable conditions and conclusive decisions to be resolved. It is also because Doha is required to issue clear positions about the issues that caused intra-Gulf contention.
Accordingly, the representatives of the six Gulf states at the Doha summit did not make decisions at any level and on any of the Gulf-related outstanding issues. Granted, the Doha summit was described as exceptional, and its agenda included among its priorities “security concerns and enhancing joint defense”. But was this not the case in previous summits?
At the Gulf level, the final statement put all topics on the agenda of previous summits on hold, pending a renewed meeting set to be held at the following summit in Riyadh during the same period next year.
According to the final statement, participants agreed on the following points:
- To continue consultations on the proposal of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to transition from a cooperation to a union
- To continue to work towards achieving the GCC monetary union
- To continue efforts to reach an agreement on the final steps regarding the GCC Customs Union
- The importance to continue the integrated work among the GCC countries
- Directives by representatives of the GCC countries to continue the efforts aimed at forming a unified military force
- To put the Advisory Board in charge of developing the partnership between the public and private sectors in the GCC countries
From the viewpoint of observers, and in order to ensure the survival of the Gulf council, the Doha summit was intended to be a regular meeting without the ability to achieve historic gains, which is why the summit held in this country was intended to issue positions rather than make decisions. This may be the viewpoint of Qatar as well, which feels a requirement to address former political obligations in controversial files.
Besides the unified positions on terrorism, the final statement of the Doha summit stressed “the council’s backing and full support of the Egyptian government and people in achieving stability and prosperity”. According to the final statement read by GCC Secretary General Abdel Latif al-Zayani, the GCC Supreme Council “reiterated its firm position in support of the Arab Republic of Egypt and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s agenda represented in the road map”.
This position is equivalent to a “down payment” by Qatar to Egypt in accordance with the Gulf reconciliation agreement in Riyadh. This puts the Qatari media discourse at stake, since it regards the Egyptian regime headed by al-Sisi as a coup regime and ousted President Mohammed Mursi as Egypt’s legitimate representative.
The closing statement included other noteworthy points, such as the council’s endorsement of a political solution in Syria according to the decisions of the Geneva 1 conference, despite its condemnation of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The general decline in Saudi and Gulf media and political escalation on the Syrian issue indicate a shift in the general Gulf position, which not long ago adopted the idea of overthrowing the regime through arms. This shift coincides with the decision by Kuwait to reopen its embassy in Damascus, which may draw the outlines of a new phase in the war on terrorism and the talks underway at the regional and international levels.
In parallel, the final statement included an initial approval of the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the “5 +1” countries on Iran's nuclear program, as well as on the extension of the negotiations until next June. However, it seemed cautious not to “grant” Tehran an unconditional stance since some GCC countries, in particular Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, still insist on raising contentious issues in the summit deliberations, such as the three islands that fall under Iranian sovereignty, which the UAE only claims at Gulf meetings.
A recent contentious topic is the situation in Yemen following the popular movement that took place on September 21, leading to the collapse of the Gulf initiative and its replacement with the peace and partnership agreement. Riyadh sees the revolutionary transformation in Yemen as an Iranian penetration of its sovereign space. The GCC closing statement demanded “the immediate withdrawal of the Houthi militias from all territories occupied, returning all civil and military state institutions to the authority of the state, and handing over seized weapons and equipment”.
From the Saudi viewpoint, this position – in its minutest details – is not considered a blatant interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state, but falls under the power struggle and threats facing Saudi Arabia. In short, what the Yemenis regard as a revolutionary and historical achievement is seen by Saudi Arabia as an Iranian achievement, or rather an Iranian threat to Saudi national security.
The Doha summit took place under exceptional circumstances but produced regular positions. The media frenzy that surrounded it can only be explained as an attempt to cover up for the lack of decisions on all essential issues. In Doha, it was a loveless reunion.