The Saudi-led bloc has shown signs that it wants to ease pressure on Qatar after nearly three years of a blockade against Doha.
The ongoing Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Riyadh has highlighted that the bad blood between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain could be easing as the blockade has appeared to have a minimal effect on the gas-rich country.
Saudi King Salman chaired the 40th GCC summit and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani chose not to participate personally, but did send his prime minister to Riyadh to represent Doha.
Experts across the board think that Qatar, which has been backed by Turkey and Iran, was able to effectively confront the blockade both politically and economically, without submitting to the trio’s demands, which included cutting ties with Iran, closing down the Doha-funded Al Jazeera broadcaster and severing ties with political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
In the face of Qatar’s resistance, the summit appeared to show that the trio wants to develop a dialogue with Doha to end the stand-off.
“This is a process of de-escalation among the GCC members. Saudis are deeply concerned about the situation on the ground. It’s a process, which would take time,” said Mithat Rende, Turkey’s former ambassador to Qatar, who was also the country’s permanent representative for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Rende is talking about recent developments concerning Saudis, who were shocked on September 14, when their biggest oil refineries in the kingdom’s east were hit by drone attacks, disrupting half of the country’s oil production for several days.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis claimed the attacks, but Washington, Saudi Arabia’s closest ally, believed that the real force behind the attacks was Tehran.
The attacks made the GCC countries feel even more insecure.
After the attacks, Saudi’s typically tough rhetoric against Iran shifted, but the kingdom’s defence of the Qatar blockade eased.
Rende thinks that the attacks might convince Riyadh and its allies about de-escalation with Doha to create a Gulf bloc including Qatar to deal with Tehran.
A final declaration from the summit promised to increase military and security cooperation, creating a financial and monetary bloc by 2025.
“I think time has come for them to put an end to this irrational blockade,” Rende, the experienced Turkish diplomat, told TRT World.
But he also thinks that the absence of the Qatari emir sends a clear message that “the confidence crisis” among the GCC members still continues.
During the meeting, the trio could have demanded Qatar close the Turkish military base in the country, Rende said. In the face of the blockade, Qatar perfectly understands the importance of Turkish aid, making it “a red line” for the country, according to Rende.
Before the Qatar crisis, the GCC was not a well-oiled machine either. It has never been an effective political group, Rende says. Their members were not real friends, making the council disparate, which creates a trust deficit, Rende observed.
The previous assumption was that “the GCC is unified, strong and coherent” but with the crisis, it’s been proven that that assumption was misplaced, says Mahjoob Zweiri, a Professor of Contemporary History at Qatar University.
The GCC was indeed a divided group as Qatar, Oman and Kuwait are on one side and Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain are on the other side, according to Zweiri.
During the Qatar crisis, Kuwait and Oman have not supported the blockade as enthusiastically and have led mediating efforts.
Reuters recently reported that Kuwait, backed by the US, was working “extremely hard to come up with reconciliation”.
“God willing, the coming meetings will be better than past meetings,” Kuwaiti Emir Shaikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah said after the 20-minute meeting on Tuesday.
There are huge political differences, which make the region less secure, Zweiri said, citing Iran’s influence and US leverage over GCC countries, that stoke divisions in the group.
The GCC’s Yemen intervention, which has created the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, also escalated tensions inside the group as Qatar withdrew its forces from the country in 2015.
In Yemen, the Saudi-UAE alliance wanted to confront Iran, underestimating the Tehran-backed Shia Houthis as an easy target, which later turned out to be a complete nightmare for them.