The GCC comprises Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. File picture used for illustrative purposes.
The leaders of six countries from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will meet in the Saudi city of Al-Ula on Tuesday for the 41st summit of the Supreme Council, amid high expectations that the meeting will discuss starting a dialogue to end the years-long dispute with Qatar.
Although the rotating presidency of the GCC is currently with Bahrain, the summit will take place in Saudi Arabia to ensure the attendance of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, given Doha’s tense relations with Manama.
Reports of reconciliation have dominated the build up to the summit, with some talk of ending a boycott of Qatar by three GCC members (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain) and Egypt, which has been in place since 2017. The four countries severed relations with the tiny energy-rich country over its support of terrorist and militant groups seeking to destabilise neighbouring countries.
However, analysts are predicting a sort of “ceremonial” declaration that a “dialogue” will be started to discuss ending the Gulf rift.
The summit is expected to agree on an 18-point document on the start of a dialogue to end the Qatar crisis.
Ahram Online has exclusively learned that the document will include items ranging from “respecting the sovereignty” of signatories and a commitment to “non-interference in neighbours’ internal affairs,” as well as an item stressing adherence to the “Gulf media charter” – i.e ending hostile media campaigns.
The document calls for putting good-will promises into action that would lead to resolving outstanding issues.
The four countries boycotting Qatar have reportedly agreed among themselves that they would sign the document.
The document is almost identical to a similar agreement Qatar signed with the rest of the GCC member states in 2014, but Doha later reneged on all commitments, which led to the boycott decision three years later.
In the days before the upcoming summit, Kuwait exerted diplomatic efforts to facilitate reconciliation. In fact, Kuwait has tried many times before, but these attempts have been thwarted by Doha refusing to negotiate on issues including Turkish military presence on its soil or its cosy relations with Iran, which it considers as “sovereign foreign policy.”
The summit will be held in person, despite the coronavirus pandemic, and is set to be attended by two new leaders who assumed power last year after the deaths of their predecessors: the new Emir of Kuwait Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, who succeeded late Emir Sheikh Sabah Sheikh Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, and possibly Sultan of Oman Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, who succeeded the late Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
For many years, Oman has attended each GCC summit through a representative of the sultan, and if Sultan Haitham attends Tuesday’s summit, it will a first in many years.
The summit is expected to focus on two issues: post-pandemic economic recovery and Gulf cooperation – with the Qatar crisis taking lesser priority. The Saudi hosting of the summit, in place of Bahrain, is meant to solidify the Saudi regional role.
This choice of venue is also symbolic to showcase the new Saudi vision for the future, focussing not only on oil and gas revenues, but diversifying the economy to meet upcoming challenges.
Tourism and investment in technology are two of the main trends in the region to make up for losses in revenues due to declining oil prices and the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic. There are also economic policy measures that need to be conformed in the GCC bloc, such as the Value Added Tax (VAT), which has not yet been applied in Kuwait, for example.
The GCC six countries have a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about $1.6 trillion, and the capital value of their financial markets is estimated at $3 trillion, making it one of the biggest economic blocs in the world. However, it is facing many challenges in its efforts to steer a new course from old policies. This is why the first summit in its first decade would be significant for the GCC economy and integration.
It is not clear yet if the Qatari emir will attend in person or will be represented by a deputy.
A preparatory meeting for the summit held last week, hosted by Bahrain, was attended by five foreign ministers. The Qatari foreign minister was not there and Qatar was represented by a junior official.
The absence of the Qatari foreign minister may have been because Bahrain, not Saudi Arabia, hosted the meeting, given the recent is rise in tension between Doha and Manama. Qatar’s absence dampened hopes that the GCC summit might come out with a full-blown reconciliation.