Seven weeks into the Gulf Crisis, Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani addressed the nation of Qatar reiterating that, “Qatar is fighting terrorism, relentlessly and without compromises, and there is international recognition of Qatar’s role in this regard.”i The Emir also thanked the Qatari people for their resilience and pushing back against the Saudi-led blockade.
Despite of the blockade still being in place and diplomacy moving slowly, Sheikh Tamim had reiterated that Qatar passed the test. The Emir’s seventeen-minute speech also called for negotiations to continue with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates to respect Qatar’s sovereignty; “We are open to dialogue to resolve the outstanding problems [so long as Qatar’s] sovereignty is respected.”ii
Why did the Emir Choose to Speak Now?
Nothing has really changed since the Gulf Crisis began seven weeks ago when the Saudis, Egyptians, Emiratis, and Bahrainis imposed sanctions on Doha for its accusations of Qatar funding terrorism. The speech by the Emir of Qatar showed the region a few things. First, it showed Qatar’s resilience to protecting its sovereignty as an independent nation that can carry out its own foreign policy. Second, the Emir thanked the Qatari people for their solidarity during the past seven weeks. Emir Tamim also sent a message to the world. He thanked the Emir of Kuwait for his mediation efforts during the crisis, and from different nations that helped the mediation efforts. Qatar is ready for dialogue, but with the respect of protecting Qatar’s sovereignty.
The Emir’s speech also came at a time of de-escalation and a calming down of the tensions between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, and Qatar. Both sides are ready to make concessions, and Qatar has been ready all along to negotiate with its counterparts. In Riyadh, there seems to be a shift in terms of their approach towards Qatar, and the Emir had to make it clear about where Doha stands, and what kind of concessions Qatar needs to make to find a diplomatic solution.
The Europeans and the Americans are also ready to end the crisis. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Doha last week, he made it clear that Saudi Arabia and Qatar need to reach an agreement to move forward. The other countries like Egypt and the UAE hold more grudges, and they are more ideological about this crisis. In addition, this would provide Egypt and the UAE with some difficulties to accept the concessions that Qatar would be willing to make. For Saudi Arabia, they need a coherent GCC and a united front for negotiating on substantive grounds.
In the Emir’s speech, there is a clear indication that Qatar is willing to engage in dialogue and discussion. Even though there was a forcefulness to the speech and praise from the Qatari people for dealing with the situation, there was also talk of the necessity for GCC coherence to discuss and to disagree, nevertheless to work within the interests of the region. This does represent a new phase in the crisis, and it does, to some extent, represent a reaching out, by Qatar to the countries involved. The speech by Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also addresses the beginning of not only de-escalation, but finding some sort of common ground to the current crisis.
What Would Be the Reputation of the GCC After the Crisis?
The longer the blockade continues, the greater damage for all the countries involved including Qatar. The Gulf countries provide some of the world’s largest energy reserves which is a huge benefit for energy sectors around the world. Qatar is one of the world’s largest producers of energy and a lot of trade goes through the Gulf countries to the far east. If the blockade continues, this will create an effect on global consumers, (especially on food and energy imports) and it is in the benefit for everyone to end the blockade and come to the table for dialogue. If the GCC crisis is not solved through the Gulf countries, there could be a possibility that this issue could be taken to the United Nations.
There is a skepticism on how to resolve the crisis through the GCC because the bloc is clearly divided and the word ‘divorced’ was even used by the Emiratis about the possible breakup of the GCC. The Gulf Cooperation Council was established in the 1980’s as a Saudi-led initiative at a time when it was a united front for confronting the Shia juggernaut Iran.
To some extent, the 1980’s is a completely different era to where we are today, and the threat from Iran seems like an over-exaggeration rather than a reality. In many ways, the GCC does not have the same impact that it used to have anymore. In addition, the GCC problems are infiltrated in an uncommon agenda where different countries have different agendas. One of the lessons from the GCC crisis, especially from Qatar, is that you don’t need to have a common policy on every ground, but you need to have an understanding. Nowadays, Saudi Arabia does not have the leverage anymore, and it creating their own disaster meddling in the affairs of its neighbors in Yemen, Qatar, and even in Bahrain. Saudi Arabia has also been responsible for spreading Wahhabism across the world from the U.S all the way to the Philippines, and this has also been one of the main factors to instability in the Middle East. Qatar has evolved into an important player as a small nation with a big punch, and the UAE has also been a huge international player when it comes to their military and their economic postures. If the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia do not step away from the GCC always having the same policy on every issue, then there will be no way of resolving crises like this one effectively.
In his address, the Emir did mention that Qatar is open for business and that the country is determined to come out of the crisis as a strong economic player; “We are opening our economy to initiatives, investments, production of food, medicine and ultimately to diversify our sources of income.”iii
The Emir has talked about diversifying the economy. This sounds like the right thing to do, but it is extremely difficult. The crisis right now serves as a catalyst for renewing efforts to diversify the economy, and move away from being too dependent on hydrocarbons. It may sound unlikely that Qatar will become the new Silicon Valley, but it is smart to diversify by moving away from hydrocarbons and increasing trading partners, but at the same time, because of Qatar’s size, it needs a realist economic plan.
What was said in the speech that can be realistic is Qatar wisdom to think about using its resources in a more useful manner that is in the interests of the Qatari people for the future.
Through Doha’s 2030 plan, Qatar has a roadmap on how they can accomplish their ambition of diversifying the economy. This plan from Doha allows Qatar to reduce its dependency on hydrocarbons and establish a balance between reserves and production. The Emir also convinced business leaders from around the world to mobilize a “business climate capable of attracting foreign funds and technologies and of encouraging national investments.”iv The Vision 2030 plan allows for Qatar to look towards the future and find solutions to not only improvements on diversifying the economy, but finding new ways to encourage businesses to invest in Qatar and encourage people to visit the country.
The Six Principles
The four bloc countries initially made the thirteen principles that pressured Qatar to make concessions to the bloc countries such as cutting ties with Iran, and shutting down Al Jazeera, but Qatar denied these concessions as a violation of their sovereignty. Instead, the Saudi-led group came up with the six principles. These six principles include:
1. Commitment to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and to prevent their financing or the provision of safe havens.
2. Prohibiting all acts of incitement and all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify hatred and violence.
3. Full commitment to Riyadh Agreement 2013 and the supplementary agreement and its executive mechanism for 2014 within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for Arab States.
4. Commitment to all the outcomes of the Arab-Islamic-US Summit held in Riyadh in May 2017.
5. To refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of States and from supporting illegal entities.
6. The responsibility of all States of international community to confront all forms of extremism and terrorism as a threat to international peace and security.v
Many people in the west, including the United States are satisfied with the direction Qatar is taking now that de-escalation is beginning between the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar. The U.S and the Europeans have seen Qatar as very cooperative and the support that Qatar had during the crisis was very minimal compared to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
More importantly, the GCC states must step away from terror finance, especially through the Wahabi ideology. The GCC has spent billions of dollars on countering terrorism, but the money going to DAESH and Jabat Al-Nusra has been through extortion coming from the Saudis and the Emiratis. Terror finance is an important topic for the GCC countries and Qatar made a wise choice by investing into education. We also need to negotiate on new ways to combat radicalism and put this issue to bed.
The Emir also made it clear that Qatar can change people’s minds, and give people hope for a better future against authoritarian oppression.
Qatar Weathers the Storm
The Gulf dispute is not only about terror finance, but it is about government security. The Saudis and the Emiratis have a similar concern to government security just like every country does around the world. But they believe that any support to the Muslim Brotherhood threatens their security. The Saudis have their own concerns about Al Jazeera such as criticism of authoritarianism, information sharing, as well as the non-hostile relations between Qatar and Iran. These are the real issues in play here. Another way to look at this dispute is that Qatar won! The Saudis and the Emiratis thought that over the first few days of the crisis that cutting diplomatic ties and blockading the country would change Qatar’s behavior in a way that pressures them to go along with the orders coming from Riyadh and Dubai, but Qatar was very resilient.
In addition, not only were the thirteen demands non-negotiable, but they were in violation of Qatar’s sovereignty. As a result, the Saudi-led bloc during the crisis was very unsuccessful and this might backfire on Riyadh going forward. However, this can also change Saudi Arabia’s behavior to stop interfering in the internal affairs of its neighbors, and hopefully, the GCC will be united again.
i. “Sheikh Tamim: Any talks must respect Qatar’s sovereignty” July 22, 2017 Al Jazeera http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/sheikh-tamim-talks-respect-qatar-sovereignty-170721184815998.html
ii. Sheikh Tamim: Any talks must respect Qatar’s sovereignty” July 22, 2017 Al Jazeera http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/sheikh-tamim-talks-respect-qatar-sovereignty-170721184815998.html
iii. Shabina Khatri, “Qatar’s Emir issues own set of demands to end Gulf dispute” July 21, 2017 Doha News https://medium.com/dohanews/qatars-emir-issues-own-set-of-demands-to-end-gulf-dispute-21a6e9903dda
iv. “Qatar National Vision 2030” July 2008 Ministry of Development Planning and Statistics http://www.mdps.gov.qa/en/qnv1/pages/default.aspx
v. Taimur Khan, “Arab countries’ six principles for Qatar ‘a measure to restart the negotiation process’” July 19, 2017 The National https://www.thenational.ae/world/gcc/arab-countries-six-principles-for-qatar-a-measure-to-restart-the-negotiation-process-1.610314