Something’s cooking

 

Qatar’s Gulf adversaries may be preparing for another significant move against it

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By Abdel Bari Atwan

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s second attempt to mediate a solution to the the political crisis in the Gulf by visiting Riyadh and Doha was a failure.

Similarly, the Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, did not manage during his lightning visit to Riyadh to secure agreement on holding the next Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit – which his country was due to host in December – on schedule. The Saudis insisted that the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad Al Thani, must not be allowed to attend the annual gathering.

At his joint press conference with  Qatari Foreign Minister Muhammad bin-Abdurrahman Al Thani in Doha, Tillerson was very clear regarding the reasons for his failed efforts. ‘There is no indication of any Saudi readiness for dialogue,’ he stated after meeting Saudi Arabia’s de fact ruler Crown Prince Muhammad bin-Salman.

Riyadh, which leads the four-country anti-Qatar alliance, does not really want any dialogue with Doha. It is seeking its total surrender and unconditional acceptance of the 13 demands it spelled out at the start of the crisis. Saudi spokesmen on social media insist their country has been trying to reason with the Qataris for more than 20 years to no avail.

At his press conference with Tillerson in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair revealed that the four states boycotting Qatar will meet soon to discuss their next moves in the Gulf crisis, though he did not disclose any further details.

The Saudi daily Okaz reported that it was agreed to postpone the GCC summit for six months to give time for solutions to be found to the Gulf crisis. This is highly significant, as the paper is close to Saudi decision-makers. But it is unclear what ‘solutions’ are possible given the failure of both the Kuwaiti and US mediation efforts.

Qatari academic and semi-official spokesman Muhammad al-Musfer warned in an article published on Sunday that something serious was being ‘cooked up’ against his country by the boycotting states. Addressing Jordan’s King Abdullah II, he said: ‘We draw Your Majesty’s attention to the fact that a Gulf political dish is currently being concocted and that will see the light of day in the coming weeks. Our brother, Jordan, may be among those invited to join those in charge of it. I entreat Your Majesty not to comply with any invitation that may be taking shape against Qatar, and ask to adopt a neutral stance.’

We do not know what ‘dish’ he was speaking of, and are unaware of its ingredients or the cook (or cooks) in charge of preparing it. Is it a political dish, which could entail the establishment of a new regional organization as an alternative to the GCC, comprising the four states (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt) plus Jordan and maybe Morocco? Or is the dish a military one, aimed at establishing a new alliance whose mission would include confronting Iran, and perhaps intervening to change the Qatari regime?

What we can be sure of is that Dr. Musfer was not merely speculating. He is close to Qatar’s decision-makers, and it clear that they are convinced that some action against them is imminent.

When Qatar’s four Arab adversaries are states are so adamant in their rejection of dialogue, when the Saudis speak of postponing the Gulf summit for six months, and when confidants of Qatar’s ruler confirm that a ‘dish’ has been cooking and is ready to be served, then the Gulf region, and perhaps the wider Middle East, may be on the brink of something serious.