Gulf in the GCC: Has an assertive Saudi Arabia forced Qatar out of the regional group?

December 27, 2018 Middle East , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , POLITICS

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Anil Trigunayat



Qatar’s decision to move away from a region-wide consensus among the Gulf’s OPEC members is a reminder of the regional tensions arising from the recent assertiveness of Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. For those who are following the developments in the region, this is critical. Other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) like Kuwait and Oman too have reservations about the hawkish axis between Saudi Arabia, UAE and the USA and may follow Qatar in leaving the OPEC. At stake is the membership of the GCC.



The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since its inception on May 25, 1981 has aimed at the highest level of integration for mutually reinforcing lofty ideals with the participation of the oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. However, its very constituents and their divergent leadership and approaches to the regional and bilateral issues have brought it to the pedestal of disintegration and irrelevance. The GCC Summit is the most important functional framework which has come under the cloud with the almost eighteen months old Gulf crisis caused by the rift and severance of diplomatic ties between Qatar on the one hand and Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain plus Egypt (Quad) on the other.


This happens to be the most serious and fractious disengagement that has not only resulted in isolation and political and economic blockade of Qatar but went to the extent of affecting the lives of people across the Gulf as their communications and family ties were in turn affected. Interstate marriages among various Gulf tribes and movement within the Gulf space are common. While the Quad imposed compliance of thirteen extraneous conditions on Qatar to normalise relations, Qatar indulged in international diplomacy as the aggrieved state rather successfully. Compliance with the conditions would have resulted in complete surrender and abject humiliation for Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani according to various analysts even though the Qatari leadership keeps on calling for dialogue to resolve all issues with mutual respect and regard to sovereignty.


The GCC Summits are the most important gathering of the Gulf Sheikhs to discuss and resolve issues from economy to security especially with regard to the core reason of their existence -the expanding influence of Iran. However, the last two Summits in Kuwait and Riyadh were held in the backdrop of the Qatari blockade. Kuwait’s Emir with a nod from the Americans has been working hard to bring all leaders together to resolve the rift between them; which is undermining the already fragile unity of the Gulf states and the GCC. At the Kuwait Summit only, the Qatari Head of State participated while others were represented at ministerial level. For the 39th Summit in Riyadh earlier this month, King Salman of Saudi Arabia personally invited Sheikh Tamim and the invitation was delivered by the Secretary-General of the GCC.


This also happened in the wake of Qatar‘s decision to quit OPEC from January 1, 2019. Although it was expected that the Qatari leader might honour the invitation from an elder leader in keeping with Arab tribal traditions, the rhetoric from the Quad members that they would insist on Qatar complying with the 13 preconditions and non-improvement in the overall approaches Sheikh Tamim decided to send his Minister of State for Foreign Affairs – a proforma presence. Besides, the episode of Lebanese PM Saad Hariri’s detention may have lurked in their minds. This clearly indicated that the two sides are not yet ready to bury the hatchet as Qatar is unlikely to dump relations with Iran, with whom it has its most prolific gas blocs, or for that matter the Muslim Brotherhood with which it has maintained close relations which are an anathema to the Saudi and UAE leadership in particular.


Another blockading country Egypt also fears the resurgence of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bahrain also tends to become the lead spokesperson when their FM tweeted “Qatar calls for dialogue and does not attend the Riyadh summit, and calls for mutual respect and it attacks our leaders and our countries around the clock, and calls for non-interference in the internal affairs while interfering and not conspiring non-stop. Above all of this, what siege do they speak of.” Earlier, Qatar’s Foreign Minister reacted at the Doha Forum on his Emir’s staying away from the Summit and even called for a new Alliance “The Regional Alliance has been undermined and that instead of blaming Qatar for not complying with their unjust demands they have no teeth to resolve the dispute.”


After the blockade last year the unintended consequence was that Qatar came much closer to Turkey and Iran who stood by it and ensured alternate supplies to Qatari people. Turkey took the opportunity to have its military presence in Doha which is already hosting the largest US base at Al Udaid in the region. Russia is also trying to regain its influence in the Middle East after a virtual carte blanche by the Trump administration’s withdrawal from Syria. In the meantime, Saudi Arabia and UAE have already created a new strategic and military alliance.


Hence what could possibly emerge is a counter-alliance with Qatar, Turkey and Iran and possibly including Oman and Kuwait and Russia supporting from the outside, even if it does not wish to be an integral part of it. This could become a reality unless the GCC countries and the US make a sincere effort with a face-saving for all before the next summit in the UAE otherwise the GCC will become history which will be unfortunate and replete with repercussions.





Anil Trigunayat

Amb. Anil Trigunayat is a member of the Indian Foreign Service. He has served in the Indian Missions in Cote d’Ivoire, Bangladesh, Mongolia, USA, Russia, Sweden and Nigeria, Libya and Jordan. In the Ministry of External Affairs he has worked in the Economic, West Asia and North Africa and Consular Divisions.

He also served as Director General/Joint Secretary for the Gulf & Haj Divisions in the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi. Thereafter, Mr. Trigunayat worked as Deputy Chief of Mission in the rank of Ambassador in the Embassy of India, Moscow

Prior to his superannuation in May 2016, he served as Ambassador of India to Jordan and Libya and High Commissioner to Malta (June 2012 – May 2016).

He is a post Graduate in Physics from the Agra/Kumaon University and also studied Russian History, Culture and Language at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. As a visiting fellow he also conducted research work on “WTO and Regional Trading Blocs” at the Oxford University.

He is a member of the All India Management Association/Delhi Management Association as well as that of Oxford and Cambridge Society of India and the Association of Indian Diplomats (former Ambassadors).  He is also the Honorary Member of the International Trade Council, Brussels.

Currently he is steering a Committee on promotion of trade and investment with Africa and the Middle East at the Federation of Chamber of Commerce and Industries. He is also honorary Adviser to BRICS Chamber of Commerce.

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