Gulf States Bury The Hatchet With Qatar

The Trump administration worked to persuade the kingdom to end the standoff, leading to an agreement mediated by Kuwait.

Qatar national museum.

The four-nation political and economic blockade of Qatar has ended, easing the biggest crisis in Gulf relations in decades. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt—known as the Arab Quartet—agreed last month to end the boycott, which began in 2017. The reconciliation, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was announced during the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit at Al-Ula in Saudi Arabia and agreed upon by all six GCC states.

The Trump administration worked to persuade the kingdom to end the standoff, leading to an agreement mediated by Kuwait. But analysts warn the easing of tensions will have limited economic impact and fresh hostilities could resurface amid lingering divisions.

It’s important to view the rapprochement through the lens of the uncertainties facing the Gulf states, says Robert Mogielnicki, resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC. “These reconciliation efforts should not be mistaken as a resolution of all grievances and a normal resumption of every regional process,” he warns.

Details of the Al-Ula accord have yet to be disclosed; “this still leaves plenty of room for disagreements on the margins,” Mogielnicki says. The quartet, which had accused Qatar of supporting radical Islamists and complained of its closeness to Iran, tabled its original 13 demands in order to resolve the impasse.

Still, Qatar looks to be the main beneficiary from the lifting of the blockade. The boycotting countries had closed their airspace during the dispute, leading to early interruptions of imported goods into Qatar due to the emirate’s heavy reliance on Dubai’s Jebel Ali port. Imports shrank by nearly 40% year-on-year in June 2017, but quickly rebounded when Qatar rerouted shipments through Oman and other friendly neighbors and then built its own deep-water port, according to research consultancy Capital Economics.

In the days since the reconciliation agreement, Qatar has called upon its Gulf neighbors to begin negotiations with Iran, Riyadh’s regional nemesis. Yet, Saudi Arabia remans suspicious of new US President Joe Biden’s Middle East policy, and Abu Dhabi remains deeply skeptical of Doha’s intent.