Signs of pragmatism have emerged in the ranks of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which has convened a summit in Doha to agree on shared grounds while maintaining the right to disagree on policy forms and substances. The leaders of the six member states have shown patience toward one another, and did not rush to issue judgments or second-guess each other, instead giving one another enough distance to implement policy by appreciating their respective domestic considerations. What is new in the Doha summit came in the speech of the Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who laid out his understanding of Gulf principles based on the permissibility of diversity in the context of joint action, and the right to have different opinions and interpretations in the framework of consensus and harmony. Egypt was a good example of this in the practical-pragmatic features of the summit’s final communiqué. The issue of Qatar’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood fell in the category of allowable interpretations. The Doha summit tackled affairs in Palestine, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, and Morocco, but neglected Lebanon. The summit turned a blind eye to the evolution of the relationship between Oman and Iran away from the GCC, and purposely praised Oman’s role in hosting the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran. The Doha summit was not a summit of surprises, and all sides seemed content with the fact that it had convened at all, as this was testimony that the GCC did not disintegrate despite the continuing differences over ambitions to turn the ‘council’ into a ‘union.’
The Doha summit, which convened this week, cemented the orientations of the new phase in the relationships among the six GCC member states, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar, which will chair the GCC for the year 2015. The summit developed the features of a strategic contract towards the establishment of a new regional order, away from radicalism of all kinds. However, the devil lies in the details, and the details governing bilateral relations and strategic visions among the six nations are not at all superficial matters, especially at this critical stage.
The six GCC member states have taken up burdens that could weigh them down to the point of restricting their Gulf-related ambitions and priorities. This poses a serious challenge to the evolution of the Gulf framework.
These burdens followed successive American decisions that were imposed based on primarily American needs. In recent years, the Gulf states have found themselves playing the role of cover-provider in many instances, to meet persistent US requests. They became involved in adventures the likes of which the Gulf nations had never been involved in directly before. Libya was the first chapter.
The Gulf nations found themselves joining coalition after coalition, and alliance after alliance. The scope of their multifaceted roles expanded, and the responsibilities placed on the shoulders of the Gulf nations portended the fragmentation of their infrastructure that is practically and actually ill prepared for Gulf priorities and others’ priorities all at once.
The energetic and youthful presidency of the GCC represented by the emir of Qatar left its marks on the Doha summit, and will leave its mark on several hot issues. This will definitely bring needed vitality, particularly in the phase of new orientations, but this does not invalidate the fact that there are many heavy burdens on the shoulders of the young presidency as well as on all the leaderships of the five other GCC countries. The responsibility is huge in the era of the burdens of alliances and coalitions, and in the stage of establishing a new regional order that is still being tested.
Oman has declined to host the next summit and to assume the rotating presidency for 2016, not because of the health of Sultan Qaboos – as rumored – but for reasons that have to do with Oman’s regional alignment closer to Iran. Subsequently, Saudi Arabia will assume the presidency next. Saudi Arabia had played a vital role in ensuring the Doha summit would convene on time, on the basis of understandings reached at the exceptional Riyadh summit that preceded it.
The impressions coming from the Saudi delegation in Doha indicate that Saudi Arabia is willing to make the effort and to give room to the emir of Qatar to gradually disengage from the Muslim Brotherhood and reconcile with Egypt.
According to sources, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz sent the chief of his royal court Khalid al-Tuwaijri to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi recently, to push him toward three main things: Convince the Egyptian media to end the campaign of ridicule and incitement against Qatar and its leadership; release Al-Jazeera journalists detained in Egypt; and taking Egyptian-Qatari reconciliation in the direction of coordination in Libya to avoid further deterioration there. According to the same sources, a large commercial delegation travelled from Qatar to Egypt last month to pave the way for reconciliation between the two sides.
A gradual approach is the theme of Egyptian-Qatari rapprochement, which Saudi Arabia believes is an absolute priority for Gulf accord, because Saudi Arabia and the UAE see Egypt as a strategic depth and the bedrock of the new regional order.
Both countries designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, which remains a matter of dispute with other Gulf states, and Qatar specifically. There are even those in Saudi Arabia who are calling for reclassifying the Muslim Brotherhood on the basis of making a distinction between ots political wing, and the armed wing that is engaged in terrorist acts.
What matters at this juncture for Saudi Arabia and the UAE is for Qatar to implement the commitments it made at the Riyadh summit, namely, to disengage from the Muslim Brotherhood and mend relations with Egypt and its President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. There are two opinions regarding the Qatari attitudes on these two issues: One that points to practical measures Qatar has taken indicating its intention to disengage from the Muslim Brotherhood. And another that points to the absence of measures such as