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What prompts Saudi Arabia to end blockade on Qatar?

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Abdus-Sattar Ghazali
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The Saudi foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, has announced that Saudi Arabia and its three Arab allies, Bahrain, Egypt and United Arab Emirates, agreed to restore full ties with Qatar. His remarks came after Gulf leaders signed a "solidarity and stability" agreement in Saudi Arabia as they met for the Gulf Cooperation Council annual summit on Tuesday.

In yet another diplomatic Mideast move facilitated by President Donald Trump's administration, the land, air and sea borders between Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been reopened, more than three years after the Kingdom ordered them sealed in a political crisis that has divided the Arabian Peninsula ever since, according to Tom O'Connor of MSN.

The end of the boycott comes amid reports by outlets such as Reuters and Axios that White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and former U.S. special representative for Iran Brian Hook traveled to Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia, to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council summit.

Although Jared Kushner is claiming credit for the breakthrough, behind the scenes the Saudis are saying that they took the step because they did not want the Qatar situation to be ongoing as the Biden administration took power, according to Juan Cole, the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment.

Cole quoted Barak Ravid of Axios as saying that the Saudis wanted to "clean the table" in advance of Biden's inauguration.

Biden and his prospective team have been deeply critical of Saudi Arabia over the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, over the kingdom's horrible human rights record domestically, and over the war that Riyadh is pursuing against Yemen, which has produced the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, Cole said adding: King Salman seems intent on mollifying the Biden team, and ending the boycott of Qatar is a relatively painless step.

Diplomats and analysts were quoted by Reuters as saying that Saudi Arabia was pushing for a deal to show U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Riyadh is open to dialogue. Biden has vowed to take a harder line with the kingdom over its human rights record and the Yemen war.

"Despite the purported rapprochement between Gulf parties, it is worth noting that this is seemingly influenced by a desire to pre-empt pressure from an incoming Biden administration, more than a genuine commitment to conflict resolution," said Emadeddin Badi, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "As such, the de'tente within the GCC is very unlikely to significantly affect geopolitical dynamics beyond the Gulf."

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo has pushed for an end to the isolation of Qatar because it has destroyed the Gulf Cooperation Council, an alliance of six Sunni Gulf oil monarchies formed in 1982 to block Iran, according to Cole. The Trump administration has attempted to craft an alliance of Israel and the GCC states against Iran.

With the diplomatic efforts of Jared Kushner, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel last summer, Cole said adding: This step has made it easier for Israeli submarines to ply the oil Gulf, and opened the way for closer Israeli technological and presumably signals-intelligence cooperation with Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates all with an eye to deterring Iran. However, even if it wanted to, Qatar was not in a position to normalize relations with Israel.

Muslim Brotherhood

Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council signed the Al-Ula declaration, named after the Saudi city where the summit is being held.

It may be recalled one of the key 13 demands presented to Qatar for restoring relations by Saudi Arabia in June 2017, included severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have given billions to the military junta of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt to root out the Muslim Brotherhood, after al-Sisi overthrew elected government of President Mohammad Morsi in 2013. The UAE has also backed military strong man Khalifa Hiftar in Libya against the UN-backed government in Tripoli.

Egypt, which had joined Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE in Qatar blockade, was invited to the GCC summit. Egypt also signed the GCC communique' signaling end of blockade.

Cole argued: The agreement to end the blockade on Qatar will not heal the rift entirely. The Gulf Cooperation Council was in part a security pact. How can the Qataris ever trust the Saudis and the UAE to have their backs?

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
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