Nine months into the GCC Crisis that started in June of last year, the blockade on Qatar is still ongoing. It began when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed an air, land, and sea embargo on Qatar closing their borders.
The blockading countries accused Qatar of supporting terrorism, which Doha denies. Kuwait has been trying to mediate the crisis, but with little success. It recently pushed towards a new avenue for negotiations with support from the United States and the European Union.
U.S President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet with leaders from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar over the next two months, and he hopes to organize a GCC Summit to resolve the crisis. Even though this particular crisis came into being nine months ago, the quadrant has been conspiring against Qatar for over two decades going back to the 1996 crisis that infiltrated a coup that called for regime change in Qatar.
The two episodes of 1996 and 2017 have clearly shown that they were not about cracking down on terrorism because it wasn’t until the late 1990’s, early 2000’s that we started to hear about the terrorism terminology more often than in the past. Both episodes were about 1) undermining Qatar’s sovereignty, 2) securing the wealth and resources of the country, 3) the geopolitical map of the Middle East, and 4) distracting the people of these countries to achieve political agendas.
It is ironic that both the 1996 crisis and the 2017 crisis involved the same key players that drove a political crisis against Qatar. What we see right now are the same people having a problem with the direction Qatar is going with policy reforms in the country such as diversifying the economy, challenging authoritarian conservatism, promoting civil liberties, and framing pluralist government. This disrupted the flow of where the Gulf was going, and it undermined the authoritarianism in the region.
For the Saudis, this crisis was more about silencing a country that could become antagonistic in terms of foreign and security policy, rather than on supporting terrorism. For the Emiratis, they wanted to silence a competitor since both Qatar and the UAE are small nations, and Bahrain is in this group as well, so they also went along with the Saudis and the Emiratis.
From the Emirati/Saudi point of view, the Arab Spring was one of the key events that worsened the political and social dynamics in the region. In the 1990’s, Qatar was a nuisance that had plenty of wealth, and now it is a small nation punching above its weight.
Qatar was also a nation that had regional influence to determine the outcomes of the Arab Spring in order to promote and support the people that were demonstrating for change against repressive governments.
Now, it seems like Qatar is more influential in regional policy than it had anticipated, and it had also successfully undermined the security narrative that the Saudis and the Emiratis were trying to propagate, which was a narrative of authoritarian stability in the region.
Meanwhile, Qatar may say that stability is not solely about authoritarianism, but it is also about empowering the people to bid for a government that can be pluralistic to meet their needs, and many of the quadrant players are very afraid of this.
The countries in the GCC have no other choice than to get along so then they can negotiate some type of diplomatic settlement out of this crisis. If the crisis continues, it will have devastating impacts on the four blockading countries and Qatar.
At some point, all the players need to come to the realization that they need to negotiate, sit down, and work things out for the GCC as a whole. However, the question of when and how they do this remains to be seen.
The ways in which the blockading countries are behaving gives an impression that they do not want to see a resolution anytime soon, unless there is an external force like the United States that could push the quadrant countries and Qatar to come to the table so then they can put their differences aside. However, if this does not happen, the GCC crisis will continue for a long time.
The Qataris are betting on two solutions to the crisis. First, is the initiative led by Kuwait that has done well by addressing the need for all sides to mediate, but Kuwait has been snubbed by the Saudis and the Emiratis.
The second bet is the initiative of U.S involvement in resolving the crisis. President Trump suggested to the Qataris that the United States would step up its involvement through strategic talks between the U.S and Qatar, as well as bringing the other GCC countries together individually.
Trump will be meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman very soon, after that with UAE leader Mohammad bin Zayed, and lastly with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani to discuss potential avenues for a way out of this crisis once and for all.
For a long time, the relationship between the United States and the GCC has been a relationship of dependence, and it is difficult to see how the U.S could still have leverage to pressure a partner like Saudi Arabia or the UAE to buy into a diplomatic policy if they are not willing to do so.
The narratives coming out of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi suggests that they are not willing to talk anytime soon, and they are also not willing to make concessions that will continue to enhance the status quo in the region.
Creating narratives about supporting terrorism or establishing cordial relations with Iran to accuse Qatar of something is not the right direction to end the GCC Crisis, a dispute that goes back decades.
The 2017 crisis was never meant to allow Qatar to abide by the thirteen demands from the quadrant countries because there was nothing Qatar could do. The Gulf countries have so much in common from membership in the GCC to the Arab League, but for some reason, cannot settle their differences through dialogue and negotiations.
If the crisis continues, the GCC as a bloc for regional stability could disintegrate in the future. Instead, the GCC has turned into a talking shop where leaders don’t participate and countries end up going in different ways to pursue their own agendas. A bilateral alliance between the Emiratis and the Saudis could very well bring the GCC to its knees, and now the region is divided between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries that will continue to loom over the Gulf for years to come.