GCC Summit & Future Road Map for Arab unity

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman inau­gurated the 39th GCC summit in Riyadh. The GCC, established in 1981 in Abu Dhabi, comprises of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The presidency shifts among the six members based on the Arabic alphabet. Although the 39th summit was held in Riyadh upon a request from Oman, Oman will be the president for the next 12 months. The 39th Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit ended without any major breakthroughs to resolve a diplomatic crisis that continues to grip the region.

Holding the summit under the difficult circumstances the GCC countries are going through is an indicator of the improvement of the future situation and the desire to maintain the cohesion of Gulf States. The summit called for strengthening joint GCC work in order to overcome the challenges facing GCC countries. The most prominent decisions of the meeting was the declaration to welcome the establishment of a joint military force and appoint a commander to lead the joint defense system, as well as the establishment of an academy for strategic studies. In a joint press conference with GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al-Zayani, the Saudi foreign min­ister said: we are waiting for Qatar to adopt the policies that are required for them to deal with. That comment I think means the door is still open for Qatar regardless of the complica­tion of the crisis.

HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah led Kuwait’s delegation to the Gulf summit. He said the continuation of the Gulf dispute presents a serious threat to unity. He called to stop malicious media campaigns, pointing out that this will “create the at­mosphere to resolve the dispute between us. Personally as a Kuwaiti citizen, I believe that this is right, because the dispute with Qatar needs to end soon.

On the Yemeni crisis, the Amir said that the conflict in Yemen poses a direct threat to all of us”. He stressed that “our relations with Iran must be set on the principles adopted by the United Nations, of which the most important is non-interference in our affairs.

The GCC issued a final statement which highlights key points of agreement, starting with a mutual commitment to economic integration among GCC states and the com­prehensive application of the provisions of the economic agreement with a view to achieve economic unity in 2025, along with combating terrorist organizations through security integration and countering extremist ideologies.

In an impressive gesture, HH the Amir drew media attention during the official photo with the leaders of the delegations to the summit. As the leaders lined up to take the photo, the Amir went to the Qatari flag and held it to check whether it was visible in the picture.

The boycotting of Qatar since June 5, 2017 undoubtedly has had a clear impact on the image of Gulf cohesion, and the Kuwaiti me­diation has not succeeded so far in bringing together the parties. But I think this summit may be a prelude to the return of the brothers to one table. Saudi King Salman concluded the summit and the leaders went back to their countries, leaving behind hope and a heavy agenda to work on.

Divisions among Gulf States were exposed when Saudi Arabia’s allies rounded on Qatar for snubbing a personal invite from King Salman and sending a relatively junior for­eign minister to the annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) meeting in Riyadh. Qatar is enduring a 20-month economic, diplomatic and political boycott by Saudi, Egypt, the United Arab Emir­ates and Bahrain that has soured relations and led to bitter rhetorical war. While the crisis was not ex­plicitly mentioned during the meeting, a call for unity was issued at the end of the gathering in a joint communique. Qatar’s foreign ministry spokesman blasted the communique on Twitter for not discussing or resolving the blockade.

The summit, the first since a brief bad-tempered meeting last December, comes at the worst moment of crisis in the 37-year history of the GCC, which was designed as a customs and political union for the six Gulf States. At the summit’s opening session, Kuwait, a traditional mediator in the region, urged all sides to end the damaging persistent disunity. Its emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, specifically called for an end to the media campaigns he said had planted the seeds of discord in the region.

Published in Melange Intl. Magazine in January 2019.

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