by Galal Zanati
Politics and emotions are worlds apart. There are no permanent friends or enemies. Self-interests are what matters. Pragmatism is the rule in the Machiavellian and unscrupulous world of politics.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit, held in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia on 5 January was called the “Reconciliation Summit”. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner showed up. The media marketed the whole event as one that would solve all problems. It made people believe that the summit would end rifts between the member states of the Arab Quartet, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, on one hand, and Qatar, on the other.
The four states cut off trade and diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing Doha of interfering in their affairs and threatening their stability. This political reconciliation – if it can rightly be called so – raises questions. Does it open a new chapter in relations between Qatar and the abovementioned states? Does it prepare the region for some scenarios? What mechanisms are there to bring Qatar back to the Arab fold away from the Iranian and Turkish spheres of influence?
Media coverage of the summit filled me with disgust, given the superficiality of this coverage. What happened in Al-Ula was nothing more than political compatibility. Reconciliation can only happen when the root causes of conflict are eradicated. Qatar is not the problem, but rather its policies. The media is not informed about what actually happened in Al-Ula. This was why the media was confused, causing more confusion to viewers and readers. Each of those attending the summit claimed victory. The media of the member states of the Arab Quartet asked Qatar to suspend terrorism financing, shut down Al-Jazeera and cut down cooperation with Iran.
However, these are all conditions that impinge on Qatar’s sovereignty. Doha claimed it is the prime victim of the boycott the four countries imposed on it. Qatari media stepped up its attacks on the member states of the Arab Quartet. Qatari media kept attacking the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, but toned down its criticism of Saudi Arabia. Qatar, which courts political Islam, Iran’s mullahs and Turkey, is the traditional enemy of Arab Gulf states. This country cannot change its policies all of a sudden. Qatar’s media machine is no longer dependent on direct support from Doha. This media is no longer directly controlled by the Qatari regime.
The scene of Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman hugging Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani upon the latter’s arrival in Saudi Arabia made headlines all through the summit. It was taken as a symbol of the success of the summit. The summit in essence was equal in importance to Iran’s announcement that it would raise its uranium enrichment to 20%. This enrichment level allows the Islamic Republic to produce between 7 and 9 kilograms of enriched uranium, according to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
This brings Iran close to joining the international nuclear club. It also threatens international peace and security which are under threat already by Iran’s ballistic missiles and piracy on oil tankers in international water passages. Iran-backed and funded militias also undermine security in regional states.
Israel will most likely be the main winner in case of reconciliation between the member states of the Arab Quartet and Qatar. This reconciliation will open the door for normalization between Doha and Tel Aviv. Qatar cut off its relations with Israel officially in 2009 after the self-proclaimed Jewish state staged a war on the Gaza Strip. However, contacts keep going between Tel Aviv and Doha on the Palestinian issue. Official relations between Qatar and Israel will serve the latter’s interests best. These relations will help Israel establish contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and consequently reduce tensions between Israel and Turkey. This can lead to calm in the Gaza Strip.
Better relations between Qatar and Israel will also help Israel secure its liquified gas needs and attract Qatari investments to the Israeli industrial sector. The Qatari market is expected to open for Israeli agricultural and pharmaceutical products. The two countries can increase cooperation in the fields of tourism and security. This can turn Qatar into a consumer of Israeli arms and military technologies.
This means that the Al-Ula summit opens the door for a new Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that has its own Middle Eastern dimensions. This new GCC will be more capable of countering the challenges facing the region, especially from Iran and Turkey. In fact, the summit was not about reconciliation. It rather aimed at tightening the noose around Iran and reining in its regional influence. The summit also aimed to undermine Turkey by depriving it of Qatari money which turned into a main financing source for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The coming few years will bring about Erdoğan’s downfall and the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. All this paves the road for a new Middle East under Joe Biden. These developments also ensure Iran’s submission, and open the door for wider normalization between the Arabs and Israel. This shows that as peoples, we do not have a say in how things are managed. The reconciliation will be a diplomatic one, not at the level of peoples.
Nonetheless, it must be noted that this reconciliation will not create big changes. Some Arab countries believe they can serve their own interests only by harming the interests other Arab states. These countries will remain the same, even if they effect reconciliation with these states.
Galal Zanati is a Professor of History at the University of Alexandria.