Gulf deal leaves the ball in Qatar’s court

Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al Arriya, Friday, April 11, 2014, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

DUBAI: 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Cooperation Council foreign ministers did not, however, mention the return of Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors withdrawn from Doha in an unprecedented move on March 5.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 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 Abdel-Khaleq Abdullah 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 toward them,” he said.

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

The three monarchies said in March that Doha had failed to comply with a noninterference commitment by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid 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.

The foreign ministers Thursday 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.

Abdullah said Qatar had already implemented part of the deal by asking several Emirati and Saudi Muslim Brotherhood opposition figures in Doha to leave and would 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 Thursday agreed to tone down Al-Jazeera but “this will be gradual,” Abdullah said.

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

“We are yet to see” if Qatar will implement this part of the agreement, Abdullah 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 did 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 would be rapprochement between Riyadh and Doha only when Qatar modified its policies.

His counterpart Khalid al-Attiya defended Qatar’s 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 this did not mean Doha agreed with them.

A Gulf official, requesting anonymity, said the envoys of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain would not return to Doha until Qatar demonstrated its good intentions.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 19, 2014, on page 11.




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