The year of 2020 was indeed a period of drastic change and historic firsts. From COVID-19 pandemic to US elections, people around the world witnessed shocking twists and turns. And hence, it won’t be wrong to say that the year 2021 will witness the effects of these claims and changes. A seizing journey comes with the year-long effect after all! One such historic change in the GCC region was Al-Ula Declaration. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region signed a historic Al-Ula Declaration with the State of Qatar.
With Al-Ula Declaration signed among the GCC countries, Qatar diplomatic crisis sees a path of improvement including blockade removal of airspace, sea routes, and land crossing Qatar. But how did it all start? What was the Qatar diplomatic crisis? How it all started and did global economies react to the same? While people are browsing shorts news in 30 seconds on Al Ula Declaration, let’s dig the background of how diplomatic crisis in GCC began.
Qatar Diplomatic crisis was a diplomatic incident that began on 5 June 2017. When Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, and United Arab Emirates split diplomatic relations with the GCC country of Qatar. The mentioned countries banned Qatar-registered ships and planes from employing their airspace and sea routes. Along with same, Saudi Arabia blocked Qatar’s land crossing as well.
The decision was later joined by Maldives, Yemen, Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tobruk-based government in Libya. This Saudi-led coalition cited Qatar’s alleged support for terrorism as the major conflict and reason of ending terms with Qatar alleging that they violated 2014 agreement with other GCC members. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia also criticised Qatar and their state owned media outlet ‘Al Jazeera’, over radical relations with Iran. Qatar acknowledged the assistance to a radical group called the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, however, they denied any connection with militant groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Qatar, rather claimed that they helped the United States in War of Terror and military intervention against ISIL.
It needs to be noted that Qatar did not agree to any of the demands of the coalition that included lessening relations with Iran, closing Al-Jazeera, and shutting military coordination with Turkey.
The Father Emir of Qatar HH Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani took power in 1995 when he believed that he could find security by transforming itself into a rival of Saudi Arabia. Reacting to same, Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Doha from 2002 to 2008 to pressurize Qatar to curb its tendencies, however, failed. During the revolutionary wave called ‘Arab Spring’, Qatar and Saudi Arabia opposed each other once again. Since both countries are allies of the United States, they generally avoid a direct discussion or conflict with each other.
It was a fine day in March 2014 when GCC countries including Bahrain, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar. This act of severing relations was one of its kind in the GCC region raised many worries and questions revealing a shift in their political agendas leading to the change of balance of power. This act placed a first brick staging GCC crisis in the year 2017.
In April 2017, Qatar was accused of the release of hostages by paying the group, ‘Flag of Tahrir al-Sham USD140 million to seal the deal. According to a militant in Iraq Shi’ite militia, the deal as directly linked to providing humanitarian aid to Sunni and Shi’ite villages in Syria. The deal was based on two major goals. The immediate goal was to secure the release of 26 Qatari hostages who were reportedly kidnapped by Shi’ite militants during falcon hunting in Iraq. The second goal was to allow Sunni and Shi’ite militants to pass through the safe evacuation of civilians with the aid. The outrage began with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’s concern over huge money paid by Qatar to seal this deal.
One of the catalysts of GCC crisis was Riyadh Summit in 2017 held in the presence of US President Donald Trump, King Salman of Saudi Arabia and Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Trump showed strong support to Saudi Arabia in fighting against states and groups related to terrorism. The headline that caught eyeballs around the world was an insider exchange and expectation by the fundraisers of Donald Trump of large consulting contracts from Saudi Arabia and UAE in exchange of pushing anti-Qatari policies at highest levels of government. No wonder it became the biggest catalysts as the move was an opportunity for GCC partners and Egypt to please their allies in Washington, US.
It was in May 2017 when the American FBI and Al Jazeera reported that the Qatar News Agency along with other government media platforms were hacked. The hackers reportedly published fake comments and remarks attributing to the Emir of Qatar expressing support for Iran, Israel, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The Emir stated, “Iran represents a regional and Islamic power that cannot be ignored and it is unwise to face up against it. It is a big power in the stabilization of the region”.
However, Qatar reported that all the statements were false. FBI team of investigators were then sent to Doha to investigate the hacking incident.
On 7 September 2017, Riyadh officially made a statement confirming their decision of shutting diplomatic relations with Qatar as a result of activities carried out by Qatar against the Gulf Kingdom since 1995.
Saudi Arabia defended its determination by arguing that it was a sovereign decision under international law. In December 2019, Qatar Foreign Minister, HH Mohamed bin Abdulrahman al Zani expressed that the progress to end the crisis has been initiated with Saudi Arabia. However, the pinching did not end there. The rapprochement was just a mere mirage after Foreign Affairs Minister of Riyadh made it clear that the diplomatic crisis will continue as Doha extends support to certain radical groups and armed militias in the conflict of Syria and Libya along with Turkey and Iran.
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, United Nations special rapporteur Alena Douhan published a report condemning Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. UN urged the nation to lift the ban on an immediate basis as it violates human rights of the state of Qatar. The blockade was concluded illegal by UN and urged all the GCC nations to present the final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council by September 2021.
Moreover, UN also highlighted that the blockade is prohibited under UN Charter policies.
On 4 January 2021, Saudi Arabia and Qatar agreed to resolve their diplomatic crisis brokered by the United States and Kuwait. Saudi Arabia along with UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt ends the blockade with Qatar and reopen its borders with the nation and begin the process of reconciliation. Final communique ‘Al Ula Declaration’ was signed on 5 January 2021 following GCC Summit at Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
The leaders of GCC confirmed the noble objectives of the council for reaching their unity, consolidating its regional and international roles to contribute to realising peace, prosperity, stability, and security in the region. The Al-Ula Declaration was issued in the 41st session of the Supreme Council of the GCC member states. The declaration noted that GCC citizens will restore the joint action to its normal track and enhance ties of brotherhood among the people in the region. The signing of declaration confirms the cementing brotherly relations of the GCC member states serving the noble objectives of the Arab nation.
The declaration stressed on befitting from advanced tools built for cooperation within the framework of G20 including stimulating the engagement in the business sector, empowering women and youth in economic development and encouraging digital economy.