Lynne al-Nahhas, AFP
Last updated: 18 April, 2014

Gulf deal leaves the ball in Qatar’s court

Wealthy Gulf Arab states have reached a “vague” compromise to thaw tensions over the Muslim Brotherhood with Qatar which has yet to prove its good intentions, analysts say.

Thursday’s deal between the six Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers did not, however, mention the return of Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini ambassadors withdrawn from Doha in an unprecedented move on March 5.

“The ball is now in Qatar’s camp,” Saudi former diplomat Abdullah al-Shammari told AFP.

Qatar is accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, but Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies have long been hostile to the Islamist movement.

They fear that its brand of grass-roots activism and political Islam could undermine their own authority.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain had publicly accused Qatar of meddling in their internal affairs, a charge Doha dismissed.

After Kuwaiti mediation, Thursday’s extraordinary meeting in Riyadh ended with the GCC ministers agreeing that the policies of member states should not undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other, a statement said.

Nor should they impinge on the “sovereignty” of another member.

The statement, described by Emirati political science professor Abdulkhaleq Abdulla as “vague and indecisive” despite “reflecting reconciliation”, did not name Qatar or elaborate on the deal.

“The Qataris asked that the statement remain general and not directed towards them,” he said.

But “despite the vagueness in the statement’s wording, Doha knows well the demands of the three countries,” said Shammari, calling the agreement “a first step towards easing tensions”.

The three monarchies said in March that Doha had failed to comply with a non-interference commitment by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

During a tripartite meeting in Riyadh in November, Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah sought to ease tensions between Saudi King Abdullah and Tamim.

– Calm after the storm –

On Thursday, the foreign ministers agreed on an “implementation mechanism” to the November agreement in a meeting described by participants as “calm” in contrast to a reportedly “stormy” March 4 summit.

Abdulla said Qatar has already implemented part of the deal by asking several Emirati and Saudi Muslim Brotherhood opposition figures in Doha to leave, and will soon expel more foreign Islamists.

Another bone of contention is influential Doha-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, seen by critics as pro-Muslim Brotherhood which Saudi Arabia has designated a “terrorist” group.

Qatar on Thursday agreed to tone down Al-Jazeera but “this will be gradual”, Abdulla said.

The Saudis had also demanded that Qatar end its alleged support for Yemen’s Shiite Huthi rebels along the kingdom’s southern border.

“We are yet to see” if Qatar will implement this part of the agreement, Abdulla said.

Mohammad al-Musfer, political science professor at the University of Qatar, insists that Doha’s “foreign policy will not change, regardless of the circumstances”.

He said Thursday’s accord does not “demand concessions on the policies member states are committed to, based on the principle of sovereignty”.

Musfer said Qatar agreed to the “wording” of the deal, but not “on the core matters”.

“Any GCC member has the right to host whoever it pleases in its territories as long as this figure does not harm anyone,” he said.

On March 18, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal warned there will be rapprochement between Riyadh and Doha only when Qatar modifies its policies.

His counterpart Khalid al-Attiya defended Qatar’s independent foreign policy, saying it “provides a forum for all those who do not belong to any bloc to come and exchange their views.”

But Attiya also said last month that this does not mean that Doha agrees with them.

A Gulf official, requesting anonymity, told AFP that the envoys of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will not return to Doha until Qatar demonstrates its good intentions.

According to Abdulla, and despite Kuwaiti certainty, “there is doubt in the UAE and Saudi Arabia” that Qatar will keep its promises.