Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Reality hits the GCC

The absence of Gulf leaders and the formation of a Saudi-Emirati alliance have raised questions about the future of the Gulf Cooperation Council, reports Ezzat Ibrahim from Kuwait

 

Reality hits the GCC
Reality hits the GCC

This week’s 38th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit in Kuwait came at a critical time, as the meeting was convening there came the news of the assassination of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The fall-out from the dramatic assassination and the subsequent bloodshed in and around the Yemeni capital Sanaa is expected to reverberate across the region and heighten tensions with Iran, especially as the GCC’s two main power-brokers of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading a coalition against the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

Usually the summit takes place on two days but Kuwait’s emir on Tuesday quickly called an end to the GCC meeting within hours of its start amid the ongoing diplomatic dispute surrounding Qatar. The sudden end of the meeting in Kuwait City could not but raise new questions about the future of the Council.

One question was on everybody’s lips before the GCC Summit meeting: “who will show up for this extraordinary meeting?”

For the first time in months, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia Adel Al-Jubeir and of Qatar attended a common meeting. UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash and Bahrain’s Assistant Foreign Minister attended the preparatory meeting before the summit. None of the Gulf monarchs showed up for the meeting aside from Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Founded in 1981 as a political and economic union bringing together Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar, as well as Oman and Kuwait, the GCC has a membership that sits on a third of the world’s oil.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, accompanied by Egypt, severed political and economic relations with Qatar on 5 June this year, the Arab Quartet accusing Doha of supporting “terrorists” and of being too close to Iran.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has been mediating to try to resolve the bitter dispute but to no avail. “We have been overtaken over the past six months by painful and negative developments... but we have managed to achieve calm,” he said as he opened the GCC Summit this week.

According to different sources in Kuwait City, the foreign ministers gathered at the summit avoided discussing the crisis over Qatar, turning the discussion instead to a regular agenda that included topics like the empowerment of woman, economic cooperation and agreements on gas and energy.

Speaking at Monday’s ministerial meeting, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah stressed the determination of member states to preserve the GCC. “The GCC is a continuous project in which the will of member states meets to build a unified Gulf body,” he said.

GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani reaffirmed that the region’s crises coupled with security and political challenges required the group’s member states to consolidate their solidarity and unity.

Later on, Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Sabah received a call from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “Discussions dealt with relations between the two countries and the means of enhancing them, as well as the latest developments in the regional and international arenas,” the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported.

In another development, the UAE announced on Tuesday that it was forming a new military and economic committee with Saudi Arabia separate from the rest of the GCC. The committee “will co-ordinate between the two countries in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields,” according to a decree issued by UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

The news of the Saudi and UAE pact left those attending the summit meeting wondering about the GCC’s future.

Analysts believe that Kuwaiti efforts to bring about a peaceful end to the crisis over Qatar may be at a standstill. According to one source, these have focused on “freezing the crisis” and preventing further deterioration between the parties. The sudden announcement of the UAE-Saudi pact may now increase divisions within the GCC.

Following the announcement of the formation of the new committee, Gulf affairs experts warned that the pact could be a blow to the once powerful grouping. The Gulf states have previously approved a customs union, a common market, a single currency and a single central bank, but most of these have yet to be implemented.

Summit sources confirmed that there was disagreement between the Gulf states over the language of the final communiqué on Iran and its interference in Arab Gulf state affairs, with one or more governments wanting to use harsh language to condemn Iran, but others wanting to leave space open for reconciliation and dialogue by calling on Tehran to stop interfering in their domestic affairs and at the same time stick to international treaties and good neighbourliness.

The Kuwaiti daily newspaper Al-Rai said that Bahrain had decided to lower its representation at the summit following the rejection of tough language against Iran.

According to Al-Rai, the Qatari delegation at the summit had submitted “a paper on the Gulf boycott of Qatar” that was not on the agenda as a “procedural step” but had otherwise kept silent for most of the meeting.

The outcome of this annual meeting of the GCC could be “an important turning point” for Gulf cooperation, the paper said, and the repercussions of the developments in Yemen could now help to decide the extent of common goals among GCC member states.

Despite the painful developments in the region, the mere convening of the summit became a success. Sheikh Sabah tried to stay positive, praising the GCC’s longtime unity.
“I would like to congratulate all the people of the GCC nations for our success in holding this summit, proving how committed we are to this establishment and continuity,” he said.

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