The tiny Sunni nation is leading mediation efforts to end the Saudi-led blockade on Doha
Despite a boycott imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and other regional Sunni Arab countries, Kuwait announced that Doha will participate in the December 9 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh. Kuwaiti Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid al-Jarallah described the invitation as “a sign of optimism.”
This comes after the Reuters news agency, citing “well-informed diplomatic sources,” reported that the United States “is seeking to exploit the killing of the Saudi journalist [Jamal Khashoggi] to push Saudi Arabia to normalize relations with Qatar.”
Khashoggi was murdered on October 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in what Riyadh has described as a “rogue” operation that was not sanctioned by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
“Any steps to repair relations require clarification in order for Qatar to evaluate the initiative,” Mohammed al-Mussafer, a Professor of Political Science at Qatar University, contended to The Media Line. “The Qataris shouldn’t agree only to help Saudi Arabia in its crisis as there are no guarantees that once the pressure passes the siege on Doha won’t be re-imposed.
“Qatari citizens and establishments suffered from the aggressive campaign,” he elaborated, “so the boycotters have to start by giving back to the people their full rights.”
Al-Mussafer nevertheless qualified that the normalization of relations should be considered an Arab and Islamic priority, and that the process of reconciliation must begin in a timely manner even if progress is made in a step-wise fashion.
Tensions in the Sunni Muslim world erupted last June when Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates severed relations with Qatar, ostensibly over of “its support for terrorism and close ties to Iran.” They also demanded that Qatar shut down the Al Jazeera news network and cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.
However, Doha has refused to bow to the pressure, instead accusing its regional neighbors of enforcing a “siege” by means of severe restrictions spanning land, sea and air.
Mahmoud al-Sharabene, an Egyptian political analyst, believes that the attempted rapprochement is part and parcel of an Arab campaign of solidarity with Saudi Arabia, which has come under tremendous international pressure in the wake of the Khashoggi murder.
“Instability in Riyadh would affect the whole region including Qatar,” he affirmed to The Media Line, adding that there are many other issues that need to be dealt with, such as the raging war in Yemen and Iran’s expansionism and potential nuclearization.
“The move was therefore expected,” al-Sharabene concluded, pointing to comments last week by bin Salman about the strength of the Qatari economy that would not have been made unless negotiations were taking place between the Kingdom and Doha.
Notably, the Kuwaiti newspaper of Al-Rai published an editorial expressing hope that the upcoming GCC summit will open a new chapter in ties between Gulf states, “especially since unity is needed to counter escalating developments.”
One source was quoted as saying that “the reconciliation effort is in full swing, with the goal being to focus on common points that can be built on in order to end the Gulf crisis.”
To this end, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz reportedly sent a message this weekend to Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait. It was conveyed by a Saudi royal adviser during a meeting with the Kuwaiti prime minister and defense minister.
For his part, Qatar leader Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani asserted earlier this month that the continuation of the blockade on his country reflects the GCC’s failure to achieve its objectives.