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9 December 2018 12:24 pm

GCC Summit 2018 in Riyadh today; facts, lead up and expectations (with UPDATE)

ILQ Staff
ILQ Staff
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The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs His Excellency Sultan Bin Saad Al Muraikhi has arrived in Riyadh and will head the Qatari delegation to the 39th edition of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit today.

Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi
Image: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi

Riyadh is this year’s host of the 39th edition of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit. Leaders from around the Gulf region will meet up to discuss important Gulf-related issues in the one-day annual gathering. Whether Qatar will be present and what level of delegation it will send is yet to be seen.

Let's talk about the agenda of this year's summit, the lead up and some of the expectations:

GCC 2018 agenda

Though little is known about the agenda of this summit, some of the focal areas that may be discussed include the war in Yemen, oil-related political issues, Iran and its activities, and maybe, there will be some mention on the ongoing blockade against Qatar, but it will not be a priority.

Pressure from the West

After the 2017 summit in Kuwait was cut short, there was speculation on whether the summit would even take place this year. It is believed that the summit this year is taking place amidst pressure from the Western countries, and the United States (US) along with Europe, which are strong GCC allies, believe the Council’s existence is important for keeping the Gulf region stable.

Since the murder of prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, the US has increased its pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the blockade against Qatar and finish the war in Yemen which has left thousand of people dead, because it wants the GCC states to unite against Iran.

Jamal Khashoggi murder

Khashoggi was a Washington Post columnist who lived in self-imposed exile in the United States because he feared his life if he returned to Saudi Arabia. He was murdered within the boundaries of the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in early October this year and drew condemnation from around the world. It is believed that the Saudi Crown Prince was involved in the incident.

Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi & Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman
Image: Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi & Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin SalmanSalman

It is interesting to note here is that this year’s summit is taking place when the diplomatic crisis over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is at its peak. Whether it will be a focal point of the agenda is yet to be seen.

Saudi King’s invitation to Qatar to attend the 39th GCC summit

Though the Saudi King sent an invite to Qatar to attend the one day gathering in Riyadh last week, it should not be taken as a sign that Saudi Arabia is even thinking of reconciliation. In fact, the invitation is just part of a traditional GCC protocol that is followed by the host country every year and is a mere formality on behalf of Saudi Arabia, perhaps, to portray to the world that the next step is in Qatar’s hands.

Attendees of this year's GCC summit

There is no clarity yet on who will chair the summit from the host country. It will either be the Saudi monarch, King Salman himself or his son, the Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, but from the Kuwaiti side, the Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabahd will be at the helm of his country’s delegation. Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai H.H. Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum will head UAE's delegation, the Bahraini King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa will lead Bahrain's delegation and Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers Fahad Bin Mahmoud Al Saeed will be the representative of Oman.

Qatar has not decided yet who will attend

Qatar Flag
Image: Qatar's flag with Doha's landmark buildings in the backdrop

It is, not yet, clear who will attend the meeting from the Qatar side as the country has not yet even confirmed its attendance, but it is believed that the Qatar blockade situation will not be a top priority in this year’s summit agenda. It is also expected that, perhaps, Qatar will send some ‘lower level’ delegates this time around.

Last year, His Highness The Amir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani attended the GCC summit in Kuwait, but United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Bahrain did not send any high level representatives and, instead, chose to send junior level delegations from the respective countries.

What may happen if Qatar doesn’t attend the annual summit

If Qatar declines the invitation of the Saudi King to attend the GCC summit 2018, it may be seen as a sign that Qatar is not interested in sitting down and talking across the table about the blockade and does not want to participate in a direct dialogue to discuss the ongoing crisis in which Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and non-GCC country, Egypt, have accused Qatar of terrorism amongst other things and boycotted the country in June 2017. This is something that experts agree is probably not what Qatar wants to portray, so it may send some level of representation to maintain its position in the crisis.

Qatar quit Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)

Members of OPEC
Image: Members of OPEC

Qatar’s sudden decision to quit OPEC on 3 December 2018 - a member of which it has been since 1961 - has also raised speculation on whether the country will also quite the GCC. Qatar has said it is quitting OPEC in January 2019 so it can focus on the production of its liquefied natural gas. This reason may also be used to quit GCC, though experts are of the opinion that it would be better if Qatar continues being a member of GCC

Oman was to hold this year’s summit orginally

The 39th GCC summit was originally supposed to be held in Oman, but Saudi Arabia intervened by raising a GCC bylaw so the kingdom could intervene and is now the host of the 2018 summit which will take place in Riyadh at the GCC headquarters today. The move has been made to, apparently, make sure that senior representatives from the member states are in attendance.

Saudi Arabia uses GCC as a tool

Experts are of the opinion that Saudi Arabia is using the GCC as a tool so it can uphold its position as a power within the Gulf region, because without the Council, Saudi Arabia has no control or power in the area - politically or economically.

What is the GCC

The GCC was formed after a charter was signed on 25 May 1981 to foster security, trade, cultural, political, inter-governmental and socio-economic cooperation between all the Arab states in the Persian Gulf (Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain), except for Iraq.

GCC member states
Image: GCC member states

Every year, the member states come together to discuss issues and partake in discussions of unilateral interest.

The GCC has failed to maintain close relations between member states

According to experts, the Gulf body has not fulfilled its duty in building closer relationships between its member states for many years now, which has become more highlighted since the blockade started and the GCC has failed to find a way to bring back together states that were once good allies, and so it is unclear how this year’s summit will address the blockade and whether something fruitful will come out of it or not.

What do you think will be the outcome of the GCC summit 2018 being held today? Who will be there and who will not? Do let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going!

Cover image: Al Jazeera