Sunday,18 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)
Sunday,18 November, 2018
Issue 1355, (3-9 August 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Cautious progress in Manama

Washington’s guarantees on Qatar appear to have gained sway in Manama, though a resolution to the crisis with Doha is not imminent, Dina Ezzat reports


Cautious progress in Manama
Cautious progress in Manama

Egypt, the Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia seem set to pursue different lines of pressure on Qatar, according to informed Arab diplomatic sources, to secure that Doha honours a commitment made to Washington to refrain “fully” from meddling in the internal affairs of the four countries.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly in the wake of the foreign ministers’ consultations meeting that was held in the Bahraini capital Saturday to follow up on the political crisis with Qatar that started about two months ago, diplomats independently said that while it is clear that none of the four Arab states are willing to turn a page, there are different views on how to go forward.

“I think it is safe to say that the four countries are still committed to keep the pressure on Doha and that the four countries are sceptical about how far Doha would go in honouring commitments of non-interference in the affairs of the other states which the emir of Qatar himself made to the US secretary of state,” said one diplomat. However, he added: “This said, it is also safe to say that while the UAE would rather opt for a more tangible set of measures, the Saudis are willing to rather keep the media and political pressure up before opting for a more decisive next move.”

In an untypical press statement, Saudi Ambassador to Kuwait Abdel-Aziz bin Ibrahim Al-Fayez said that Riyadh opposed a proposal that Abu Dhabi had put forward to include potential military action against Qatar.

Al-Fayez said his country is committed to a political solution to the crisis and is keen to spare his country from further military situations.

Kuwait, with clear support from the US, has been on a fire-fighting mission since the outbreak of the crisis.

Western diplomats in Cairo say the personal diplomatic weight and influence of the emir of Kuwait was crucial in bringing “sensibility” to the handling of the crisis. In the words of one, “Kuwait kept the situation from taking a very negative turn at the early phase of the crisis and it actually appealed to the Americans to act promptly.”

The Kuwaitis, the same diplomats say, were highly alert to a “war scenario” that could take the Gulf area into a new phase of military tension the Kuwaitis are especially sensitive about, with not so distant memories of the Iraqi invasion and war to liberate Kuwait.

While Kuwait failed to deliver sufficient security commitments from Qatar, it managed to help a US effort on the matter.

A Washington-based Arab diplomat said that the Saudis now have two clear commitments put across by the US secretary of state: Qatar is not taking any part in the internal political dispute in Saudi Arabia over the fast ascent of Mohamed bin Salman to power at the expense of the political elimination of his uncle, and former US Saudi favourite, Mohamed bin Nayef; and Qatar is not going to allow the Shia Bahraini opposition it is hosting to stoke unease in Saudi-supported Sunni-ruled Shia majority Bahrain.

According to the same source, these guarantees seem sufficient given that the original crisis was largely based on a considerable fear in the house of Salman that the Qataris are plotting to support Bin Nayef against Bin Salman, and to prompt Shia protest against the Sunni rulers of Bahrain first, and then possibly in Saudi Arabia where Shias, who consist some 20 per cent of the population, have economic and political grievances.

This week, Bin Salman hosted a leading Shia figure, Moqtada Al-Sadr of Iraq, in a week visit that is expected to cover a large range of issues.

He added that for Washington, it was out of the question to have a long term or serious feud between its two top partners in the Gulf — Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

“This is particularly the case given that the four countries have yet to provide tangible evidence to support their case for an attempted Qatari supported coup in Saudi Arabia,” the same source said. He added that the Qataris have actually managed to convince Washington that it is them who face a plot of forced political change coming from some key regional players.

Meanwhile, the Arab diplomatic sources that spoke to the Weekly after the Manama meeting declined to speak of a split in the positions of the four states on Qatar. They insisted that it is rather a matter of the different choices of each state, depending on given priorities and concerns. It is hard, they also agreed, to see any of the four countries sending back an ambassador to Doha anytime soon.

The statement issued out by the Manama meeting was forceful in stressing the commitment of the four countries to keep the political pressure on. However, it indicated the “conditional” willingness of the four countries to start a dialogue with Qatar to secure its long-term commitment to the concerns of the four. Qatar, for its part had said that it is willing to talk but that it is not willing to talk under all conditions.

“I think the Americans are satisfied with the outcome of the Manama meeting; the statement there did not quite open the door for dialogue but it showed that the four countries could take a step forward,” said the Washington-based Arab diplomat.

In press statements following the Manama meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri said that the four countries are sticking to their political positions and would consider their next move in light of Qatari political and diplomatic choices.

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