There are many rumours doing the rounds that the blockade on Qatar is about to end. People have been messaging and calling me and other members of the ILQ team to ask if the rumours going around the country that the blockade is going to come to an end on 13 December 2019 with a grand celebration at the Corniche in Doha are true. Speculations are rife and most people sound dead sure that the blockade really is at the end of its just over two and a half year life.
Could it be true?
Could the Gulf Crisis that started on 5 June 2017 when Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt (let’s call them the blockading countries) suddenly cut diplomatic ties with Qatar after accusing them of funding terrorism, being too friendly with Iran, and demanded that Al Jazeera be shut down because of its content?
It’s hard to say. What started these speculations? Let’s talk about some of the positive developments that have taken place between Qatar and the blockading countries in the recent months:
This edition of the Arabian Gulf Cup was hosted by Qatar for the 4th time in its history and whereas, the blockading countries (minus Egypt which is not part of the Arabian Gulf Cup) initially boycotted the event, on 13 November 2019, they confirmed their participation. The teams from these countries and their fans were welcomed with open arms and the tournament was a success with Bahrain winning the trophy for the first time in the Cup’s history. All the matches were played in a good competitive spirit and fans were mostly respectful, with no scuffles reported on or off the field.
That’s not all. Saudia Arabia and Bahrain brought in their teams on direct flights from Riyadh and Manama respectively even though the blockading countries have placed airspace restrictions on Qatar. Bahrain also flew in 100s of fans for the semi-finals against Iraq and the finals which Bahrain won after defeating Saudi Arabia 1 – 0 via Kuwait.
Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a US-based expert on the Middle East, told Al Jazeera:
"The fact that Saudi and Bahraini fans were able to travel to Doha and were made to feel welcome guests chipped a huge crack in the blockade and generated a momentum for the restrictions to be lifted."
Ulrichson also said:
"I think the tournament was a success in both the sporting and the political angles as it took place in a welcoming atmosphere and with a generosity of spirit that was far removed from so much of the antagonism and confrontation of the past two years."
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has said he hopes for "progress" in the efforts to resolve the Gulf diplomatic crisis following talks with Saudi Arabia, adding that the parties have "moved from a stalemate" in the two-year dispute, Al Jazeera reported.
During a session at the Mediterranean Dialogues Forum 2019 in Rome earlier this month, His Excellency said:
"We have moved from a stalemate to some progress where ... some talks took place between us and specifically Saudi. We hope that these talks will lead to our progress where we can see an end for the crisis.
"We moved from an impasse in the Gulf crisis to talks about a future vision regarding the relationship with Saudi Arabia. While I cannot disclose who are the officials or parties involved in the negotiations, I can say that the events took place under Kuwaiti mediation, and we thank His Highness the Emir of the State of Kuwait for his continuous efforts and commitment to restoring the unity of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states."
He added that several meetings had taken place between officials of both countries in different places, refusing to confirm reports that he has recently visited the Saudi capital, Riyadh, for talks.
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The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia invited His Highness (H.H.) the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to attend the 40th session of the GCC Summit to take place in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) on 10 December 2019.
The written message was received by His Excellency (H.E.) Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani when he met with the H.E. Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani on 3 December 2019.
The summit, which was originally scheduled to take place in the UAE, was moved to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
H.E. Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi and his delegation arrived in Saudi Arabia on 9 December 2019 to participate in the 145th ministerial preparatory meeting for the 40th GCC Summit. The meeting, in which Their Excellencies Foreign Ministers of the GCC countries took part, discussed a number of topics on the agenda related to the preparations for the Gulf Summit.
H.E. Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al-Thaniarrived in Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 10 December 2019 to attend the 40th session of the GCC Summit, in place of The Amir. His Excellency and his delegation was welcomed upon arrival at the airbase airport by King Salman, His Royal Highness Governor of Riyadh Province Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, H.E. Minister of State and member of the Council of Ministers Dr Musaad bin Mohammed Al Aiban, and H.E. Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council Abdullatif Rashid Al Zayani.
The Qatari Prime Minister is the most senior Qatari official to attend the gathering of Gulf leaders since H.H. The Amir attended a summit in Kuwait in 2017, where Saudi Arabia and its allies sent more junior officials.
A number of important political, defence, economic and social issues were discussed at the Summit to reinforce the progress of the GCC and integration among the GCC members. Also, on the agenda was review of regional and international political developments, the security situation in the GCC region and the effects it has on the GCC countries' security and stability.
The 40th GCC Summit concluded with an emphasis on the necessity of achieving coordination, integration and interdependence among the GCC countries in all fields to attain unity and amid signs of a thaw in relations between a host of blockading countries and Qatar - even though there was no concrete progress in solving the two-year diplomatic crisis. Saudi King Salman, who gave Qatari prime minister a traditional welcome, called for regional unity to confront Iran and secure energy supplies and maritime channels.
A closed-door meeting lasted less than an hour before a final communique by the six-member bloc - comprised of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman - emphasised the need to increase military and security cooperation to maintain regional cooperation. There were also calls to achieve financial and monetary unity by 2025, according to Al Jazeera.
The final statement of the 40th GCC Summit also underlined that the GCC countries stand united together in the face of the attacks which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was subjected to during this year, which embodies the defense policy of the GCC based on the principle of integrated and equal collective security principle, and the principles contained in the joint defense agreement approved in 2000.
After the final statement was read out, Kuwait's ruling emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who has continuously mediated between the blockading countries and Qatar to end the Gulf crisis, commended the call for unity and believed the coming meetings would be better than past meetings.
At a news conference after the end of the summit, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, said the Kuwaiti emir's mediation efforts were still ongoing, adding that the four blockading countries are supporting these efforts.
For more information on the issues discussed in the 40th Gulf Summit, click on the following link:
Al Jazeera's senior political editor Marwan Bishara, commenting from Doha, said the general communique appeared to be "quite positive".
"There seems to be a lot of goodwill out there; talking about unity on a number of issues and a united effort on military, financial and other affairs."
Bishara added the apparent "warm reception" that the Qatari Prime Minister received in Riyadh "bode well for something more optimistic" after years of tension and distrust.
"Qatar is not going to go back to any of the previous understandings reached in Riyadh because it was stabbed in the back. It wants more assurances and guarantees and those will not happen in one event; this is going to be a process - short or long - but definitely a process."
Bishara called the summit an "important signpost" that suggested that "there are better signs today than there were two months in as far as resolving the crisis".
On the other hand, Talha Abdulrazaq, a researcher at the University of Exeter's Strategy and Security Institute, said the summit was unlikely to resolve the dispute given that not all blockading countries seemed interested in ending the crisis. He told Al Jazeera:
"We have to bear in mind that what Saudi Arabia may desire in terms of building bridges may not be shared by the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh's partner in the blockade. This therefore indicates that there's a lot of diplomatic work to be done before a substantial breakthrough occurs and a first significant step would be to get all the leaders in the same room together in the first place."
We are all waiting and watching to see if the stalemate really is coming to an end, and the brothers who lived in unity until the blockade in 2017 will move forward and let bygones be bygones. The whole of Qatar is hopeful, and even if it the blockade doesn't end on 13 December 2019, perhaps it will end in the near future.
What are your thoughts on this?
What do you think? Is the end of the blockade really near? Do let us know your thoughts in our Comments section. Like and share the article - it keeps us going?
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