December 11, 2018
The Gulf regional grouping is being sent the way of the Arab League
By Abdelbari Atwan
Far more important than the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit — which convened for just a few hours in Riyadh on Sunday — and the ‘poetic’ closing statement it issued, were the remarks made by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir after the meeting concluded. Specifically, his revelation that the GCC states and Egypt and Jordan are actively engaged in discussions with the US on new regional security arrangements aimed at confronting external aggression – meaning Iran.
This was the first time that Jubeir spoke so openly about talks aimed at creating a NATO-like Sunni Arab alliance – which has been named MESA (the Middle East Security Alliance) — or about the appointment of a Saudi officer (Gen. Eid ash-Shalawai) to head the joint Gulf military command.
It is unknown whether Qatar, which is still supposedly a member of the GCC, will be a member of this Arab NATO, which may be inaugurated at a summit in Washington chaired by US President Donald Trump early next year. It is clear that all these arrangements were made in the absence of the Qatari leadership, as though to affirm that it is not welcome either in the old grouping (the GCC) or the new one (the Arab NATO). The country’s foreign affairs spokesman, Ahmad al-Rumaihi, has been tweeting his disapproval and incomprehension of the fact that the GCC summit failed to discuss the ‘Siege of Qatar’ or consider ways of resolving it. He seemed unaware that those who are at the summit of this summit want to exacerbate this crisis rather than resolving it.
It was striking that none of the GCC leaders assembled in Riyadh even mentioned that crisis. The sole exception was when the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, reached out for and touched the Qatari flag that was hanging in the conference chamber. This gesture was enthusiastically applauded by the Qatari media. But touching the flag to signal regret at the absence of the Qatari emir from the summit is one thing. The way the crisis was totally and deliberately ignored by the hosts, and kept off the agenda, is another thing altogether.
Conditions were deliberately created to ensure that the Emir of Qatar would not attend the summit. – due to his singing out of tune with the rest of the GCC, his ties with Iran and Hezbollah, and especially Turkey, and his opening of secret channels to Syria. The question now is whether this was all aimed at excluding Qatar from the new alliance, and ejecting it from the GCC itself? Could anyone expect Qatar – while being boycotted by three fellow GCC members — to join a military alliance commanded by a Saudi general, when it has just withdrawn from OPEC due to Saudi Arabia’s dominance of the organisation?
We have no answers to these questions. But we could recall an important precedent, namely Qatar’s expulsion last year from the Saudi/Emirati-led Arab coalition waging war on Yemen, right after the Gulf crisis broke out. Saudi Arabia and the UAE could similarly kick Qatar out of the GCC or suspend its membership, either officially or unofficially and de facto.
At last year’s GCC summit in Kuwait, the emir of Qatar was present but the other Gulf rulers stayed away. The opposite may happen at next year’s summit in Abu Dhabi.
The GCC, established in 1981, may be nearing the end of its sell-by date. What was considered the most cohesive of Arab regional sub-groupings is heading in the same direction as the Arab League, which was debilitated and turned into a relic of an ancient Arab past. A different kind of dish is currently being cooked up in the region, by a Saudi chef under American supervision. We doubt there will be a place at the table for Qatar. Whether that is to the country’s advantage or disadvantage, only time –- and some more information about the details – will tell.