What does the GCC's Al Ula agreement mean for the region?

Historic deal reached in Saudi Arabia creates unified bloc to combat regional threats, experts say

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The historic agreement reached in Saudi Arabia between Gulf countries this week creates a "unified and geostrategic bloc" that will prepare states to deal with regional challenges, experts told The National.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushed for a deal to end a dispute with Qatar during the 41st GCC conference and to strengthen Arab alliance against Iran.

"The agreement and reconciliation reached at Al Ula historic GCC summit shall serve to further strengthen co-operation amongst its nations and create a more unified geostrategic bloc better equipped to deal with regional threats and challenges," Abdullah Al Saud, visiting research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at London's King's College, told The National.

“It is also hoped to bolster Arab unity, with Egypt’s involvement, and strengthen co-operation and coordination when it comes to many regional issues,” Mr Al Saud said.

Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim, attended the summit for the first time since 2017, when fellow bloc members Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, along with Egypt, cut off ties over Doha's support for extremist groups.

Sheikh Tamim exchanged a warm embrace on the tarmac at Al Ula airport with Prince Mohammed upon his arrival.

“It’s a great development to start the year with,” Mr Al Saud said.

Referring to the summit statement signed by all six GCC leaders, Prince Mohammed said the agreement "emphasises Gulf, Arab and Islamic solidarity and stability as well as the strengthening of friendship and brotherhood between our countries and people."

In his opening address to the summit Prince Mohammed urged for unity in countering Iran’s regional interference.

The Gulf region is in need of co-ordinated efforts to face challenges such as Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missiles programme, he said.

“It aims to shake up stability in the region,” Prince Mohammed said.

Qatar will now be more willing to engage with Saudi Arabia and the UAE on dealing with the Iranian threat, Samuel Ramani, an expert on international relations at the University of Oxford, said.

"Each GCC country will still maintain independent foreign policies and threat perceptions," Mr Ramani said.

But the deal will also streamline GCC-wide cooperation on macroeconomic issues of shared concern.

"A de-escalation of tensions between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE will enhance the GCC's ability to address the long-term economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and facilitate collaboration on economic diversification strategies," Mr Ramani told The National.

“This strategic dialogue on economic issues could also translate into greater economic interdependence and joint investments,” he said.

Gulf member states signed a final communique that outlined “full economic integration in a way that ensures the right for all GCC citizens to work, move and invest across member states.”