Return of ambassadors to Qatar paves way for GCC summit

Diplomats from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were recalled eight months ago over Doha’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and accusations of interference in the internal affairs of other member states.

Saudi Arabia's deputy prime minister Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, centre, escorting the Dubai Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, right, and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan after their arrival at an extraordinary GCC leaders summit in Riyadh on November 16, 2014. AFP Photo/SPA news agency
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MUSCAT // The return of three Gulf ambassadors to Qatar after an unprecedented dispute will allow the annual GCC summit to go ahead as planned in December and free the group to focus on pressing regional issues.

The ambassadors from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain were recalled eight months ago over Doha's support for the Muslim Brotherhood and accusations of interference in the internal affairs of other member states. The dispute was said to be over after an extraordinary meeting of GCC leaders in Riyadh on Sunday.

The meeting was seen as a final attempt to reach a compromise before the GCC summit, in Doha from December 9-10. Qatar is still expected to take over the council’s rotating presidency for the next year.

Kuwaiti and Omani officials had tried for months to mediate the conflict, but on November 10, a GCC foreign ministers meeting in Doha was postponed, highlighting the continued discord. Tensions had grown to the point that some speculated the annual summit might be held in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait instead of Qatar.

On Saturday, the UAE declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, along with a number of other groups.

Instead of making a decision that could have resulted in Qatar leaving the GCC, a compromise was found to move forward, with leaders from every state except Oman arriving in Riyadh for a fresh round of talks at the behest of Saudi King Abdullah.

The UAE delegation was represented at the meeting by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Qatar was represented by Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, declared the meeting in Riyadh a success. In a tweet he said Gulf leaders had “succeeded in taking responsibility” and had made the “stability and prosperity of the region and the interests of its people” the priority.

A statement on the GCC website said an agreement was made to begin “a new page that will present a strong base, especially in light of the sensitive circumstances the region is undergoing”.

Mustafa Alani, the director of security and defence studies at the Geneva-based Gulf Research Centre, said that the personal involvement of King Abdullah was one of the main factors that encouraged GCC leaders to meet and promise to restore diplomatic relations.

"King Abdullah thought that you either have to compromise to maintain the unity of the GCC or to escalate the internal conflict, which basically could lead to the disintegration of the GCC," Mr Alani said. "I think this is the reason why he put his weight behind this issue."

At the meeting, Qatar reportedly made a new commitment to honour an agreement not to interfere in the internal affairs of other GCC states.

“I think the Qataris now have a good intention to implement the agreement,” Mr Alani said.

“The agreement was basically that, based on the collective security of the GCC, the behaviour of one single state should not undermine the security of the other members. You can find this in any regional or international structure.”

The country's state-backed Al Jazeera channel had allowed controversial preacher Yusuf Qaradawi, a spiritual leader to the Muslim Brotherhood, to criticise the UAE on air, an act Emirati officials took as an affront.

Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood was also troubling to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which considers the group to be a potentially destabilising force.

Qatari officials viewed their relationship with the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups throughout the region as a way to expand its influence.

The exact factors that led to a compromise were not detailed.

Muscat-based political analyst Ahmed Ali Al Mukhaini said that if the ambassadors did not return to Doha, the December GCC summit would not have been able to proceed.

While he doubted core issues, such as concerns over the Brotherhood, had been resolved, Mr Al Mukhaini said the agreement could be related to countering Iran’s influence in the region. The UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain see Iran as a destabilising force and are concerned about Tehran gaining greater influence, especially following a possible deal with the international community over its nuclear programme later this month. “I think they are concerned about Iran,” said Mr Mukhaini.

While Qatar has economic relations with Iran, Mr Mukhaini said it was possible that the agreement came after Doha agreed “at least not to stop efforts by the UAE and Saudi Arabia” to limit the spread of Tehran’s influence.

Holding the GCC meeting in December as planned will allow the group to focus on issues other than internal challenges, to move “from cooperation to unity”, Mr Alani said.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, wants to make a push towards great integration.

Along with the collection of regional conflicts — from Yemen to Libya — another issue that will be focused on at the meeting will include countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The last statement from Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, the leader of ISIL, identified Saudi Arabia as a state to be targeted, Mr Alani said.