By Khaled Okasha
At the end of last week, a statement was issued by the King of Saudi Arabia announcing the Riyadh supplementary agreement, whose goal is to clear the air in the Gulf. He hoped that moving forward with the agreement would bring about cooperation, free of past disagreements. Just one day before this, an announcement was made that the Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors would return to their posts in Qatar, representing a significant step forward in ending the Gulf crisis. But will this actually lead to the end of the crisis, and has Qatar responded to the demands of the Gulf states?
The statement from the Egyptian presidency, which was issued a few minutes following the Saudi statement, warmly welcomed the agreement. The statement strongly praised the efforts of the King of Saudi Arabia in restoring Gulf relations, further stating that Egypt was and will continue being the “Home of the Arabs” whose first and foremost concern is Arab unity. But with the release of both statements, the questions went beyond legitimate concern, asking: who will ensure the future and enforce accountability for the painful past?
As a result, we must look back at what happened in light of previous points of contention in the region which may create more tension.
The Riyadh supplementary agreement will put an end to a severe Gulf crisis that nearly precipitated the disintegration of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain openly accusing Qatar of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and interfering in the internal affairs of the GCC countries through harbouring Gulf dissidents and naturalising Bahraini nationals last March. That day, those three nations took the unprecedented step of withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha, and Riyadh imposed various conditions on Qatar to adhere to for a certain period of time in order to overcome the situation. The Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors only returned to Doha a few weeks before the GCC summit scheduled to be held in Doha, and now the question is: what is the price Qatar paid and the commitments it made on the one hand, versus their seriousness in complying with those commitments on the other?
The GCC exceptional summit took place through Kuwaiti mediation, and it seems that this succeeded in containing the sharp disagreement but only through “providing certain concessions”. Kuwait is the nation closest to the epicentre of heat originating from the coalition countries, and Kuwait was the first to talk about the necessity of making concessions. The most important statement made by Kuwait following its successful efforts was: “Concessions were made by all… Qatar made a commitment to a number of issues relating to Gulf state relations, and not to allow activities within its territory. In exchange, the Gulf states agreed not to impose one single viewpoint regarding Qatar’s foreign relations.” These statements highlight what was undertaken in order to overcome the complex Gulf crisis, but does not shed any light on what is to come, which holds more importance.
Thus, it may be of use to go back to what happened at the Riyadh summit a week ago, when the UAE issued a list of more than 80 groups deemed to be terrorist organisations. The Emirati decision cannot be separated from what happened in Riyadh, which, firstly, prohibits all those organisations’ members from entering the UAE, and secondly, allows for possible security prosecution outside the UAE, if Emirati security services coordinate with other security services in the Arab world or internationally. This step by the UAE clearly indicates the state’s seriousness about directly fighting terrorism. This is why there was an immediate interest in the decision once it was taken by all relevant entities within and outside the Arab world.
Qatar also pledged to halt hostile media campaigns and deter Al Jazeera from offending any Gulf states. A new spirit prevailed during the intensive meetings of the summit, most of which discussed the necessity to grant Qatar every opportunity to fulfil its promises, while Qatar does not want to move further away from the GCC, especially in the midst of a phase filled with intense events and alliances.
Kuwait spoke about Qatar’s more serious intentions to adhere to its commitments, already having applied some before visiting Riyadh to meet with Arab leaders. Kuwait also added that Qatar demanded that various parties affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood leave the country.
One way or another, the Riyadh summit would have reached a settlement. The circumstances obligated all Gulf states to reach a compromise so that the GCC summit can occur at the specified time and place, especially after the emergence of serious new threats in the region, because international relations regulations govern the exchange of interests in the Arab Gulf. As for Egypt, Qatar is not obligated to offer any tangible concessions, especially since there will only be benefits if the Riyadh agreement entails mending and restoring relations. In return, Egypt will receive Qatar’s decisions with caution until everything comes to light.
When the Egyptian president responded to the Saudi statement, he stated that he was ready to participate in strategic Saudi plans. Egypt has not yet presented a proposal on what will take place if Qatar does not commit to the conditions imposed upon it under the supplemental Riyadh agreement (which affect changes in Qatar’s strategy for the whole region, particularly affecting Syria, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain, and Egypt). However, Egypt has agreed on the Saudi commitment to ensure these changes, as well as the necessity of addressing the roots of the tension. There has also been a failure to create different policies, which Egypt is not interested in doing, representing a thorn in the sides of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, who will ultimately pay the price, along with the GCC. In a critical moment, Egypt chose to be part of the solution.
Khaled Okasha is a former police officer in Sinai, strategic expert and TV presenter