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Research studies

GULF AND IRAN IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE GULF CRISIS 2017

Prepared by the researcher –  Mohamed Meskour

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Afro-Asian Studies : Eight issue – February 2021

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin. The journal deals with the field of Afro-Asian strategic, political and economic studies

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN 2628-6475
Journal of Afro-Asian Studies
:To download the pdf version of the research papers, please visit the following link

Abstract:

Gulf Crisis in 2017 is one of the important political issues in the intra-Gulf relations since its rise as independent countries in 20th century. This article argues that the 2017 crisis has many repercussions not only on intra-Gulf countries (Gulf unity, Gulf

This Paper was a Term paper submitted to “Proactive Foreign and Security Policy: Geopolitics, Geostrategy, Change Management, and International Law as Tools for Designing Politics” course in Summer Semester 2020, and supervised by Prof. Dr. Fischer Klemens, the envoy and head of department at the permanent representation of Austria to the EU.

Mohamed Meskour is a student at University of Cologne, Germany, and he studies a master’s in Political Science. His focus in study is about International Relations specifically the MENA region.

In 2017 Mohamed graduated with High distinction Award from Qatar university where he got his bachelor’s in international Affairs with major in International Security and Diplomacy. Meanwhile, he worked from 2011 to 2018 as an administrative clerk in Qatar Ministry of Interior. Mohamed Studied IT and Entrepreneurship at University of Ibn Zohr- Poly-disciplinary College in Ouarzazate, Morocco. He was chosen in 2016 to participant at University of Delaware in the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) scholarship offered by U.S. Department of State that deepened his knowledge as well as increased the rigor and impact of his research.

Mohamed participated in Middle East Summer School organized by Center for Middle Eastern Studies- ORSAM (Turkey, 2020), Winter School by International Association of Political Science Students (2019) about: Youth Activism in MENA Region between Islamization and Secularization.

Other Publications: Moroccan Iranian relations from agreement to estrangement. (November 2015)

Introduction

The Arabian Peninsula Countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain) share many similarities such as: common faith of Islam, hereditary political regimes, Arabian culture and sociocultural aspects. In 1981, these countries decided to establish the Gulf Cooperation Council to further cooperation and integration in all domains. Many scholars consider security and defense as motives behind its establishment (the Iranian revolution, the rise of Saddam Hussain, Iraq-Iran war, and the civil war in Oman). The procedures taken throughout the years are best demonstrating the reasons of the GCC establishment (the Peninsular Shield Force in 1981, GCC Security Agreement in 2000, Joint Defense Agreement etc. …) (Miller, 2016).

The popular uprising of 2011 spread out quickly in the Middle East and North Africa and toppled down many dictators. Gulf countries were convinced that they had to act against it as protests arrived in their streets demanding democratization and political reform. Saudi Arabia, The UAE and other Gulf countries decided to face youth aspirations, but Qatar chose to back the popular uprising. The tiny rich country backed movements, young people’s demands, offered financial support, and the use of its soft power (its active diplomacy and giant media network of Al-Jazeera).  The gesture was considered as disobedience by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt, then they decided to withdraw their Ambassadors to Doha in 2014. Despite the agreement signed, disagreement between these countries was not solved. Yet in 2017, the so-called “anti-terror quartet” severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar and imposed an air, land and sea embargo.

Despite efforts of Kuwait and US to solve the Gulf Crisis, the two blocks (anti change and pro-change in the MENA region) did not reach any agreement. As Qatar relies on importation to feed its population, an immediate intervention from Turkey, Iran and other countries helped to secure food supply for its 2 million inhabitants. This crisis that aimed to limit Qatar’s support to movements and individuals considered by “anti-terror quartet” as sources of threat led to an Iranian-Qatari convergence as this article aims to demonstrate. Moreover, the GCC faces an unknown destiny, as the organization, which was once united against foreign threats (Iran), falls apart while Iran gains more influence inside the Gulf region itself. Since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 the tension between Arabian Peninsula countries and Iran has been escalating. The former considered Iran a regional competitor and a security threat. Despite their unity of stances that longed for decades, three of the gulf countries confronted one of the founding members of the GCC in 2017 in an aim to force Qatar to align itself with Saudi Arabia, The UAE and Bahrain. This article answers the following question: to which extent the blockade on Qatar was counterproductive and gave Iran a foothold in the Gulf? In order to answer the question, the article applied process tracing method to demonstrate how besieging Qatar by other GCC countries aiming to urge Qatar to align itself with other GCC countries was counterproductive. In addition, it aims to unveil the mechanisms behind the Iranian increasing involvement in the region. It argues that the GCC crisis is a part of wider aggressive foreign policy led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE against Iran and democratic spring in 2011. it aimed to halt spread of popular uprising and voices of democratization in the MENA region, but had a counterproductive outcome, gaining Iran a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was established by six Arabian Peninsula countries in May 1981 in an aim to further cooperation. Many studied GCC as a regional organization with an important international role and incentives behind its foundation. Although security was not mentioned as the main objective in its charter, it is argued that security is the main goal of the regional entity in order to face threats facing GCC member states especially those coming from their neighboring country: Iran after the Islamic revolution 1979 (Al Makhawi. 1990). After decades of unity, GCC faced substantial issues threatening its unity and continuity. While some believe that Gulf crisis of 2017 roots back to the popular uprising in 2011 as GCC member states held different stances over developments in the region, sources of instability and security threats menacing their traditional monarchies, notably the emergence of Muslim Brotherhood as modern Islamic governing regime, others believe that personal politics of the most influential figure in the crisis (the UAE’s Muhammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan), who had been pushing for a much harder line against the Brotherhood and Qatari political figures mainly in dynasty family, was the cause of the gulf crisis (Davidson 2019). The personal politics and ideology versions of the leaders in the UAE mainly MbZ (Muhammad bin Zayed) and Qatar’s HbK (Hamad bin Khalifa) came head to head as the Arab Spring erupted (Krieg 2019). The unexpected crisis of 2017 had many regional but also international repercussions as the GCC member states control 29 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves. It could become also a field of confrontation for major actors. A study by (2018) concluded that the crisis has a great impact on strengthening Qatar’s relations with Turkey whose “parliament authorized fast-tracking the deployment of 3,000-5,000 Turkish troops to a military base in Qatar” just two days after the “blockading countries” cut ties with Qatar. Qatar after June 5th, 2017 had only one option: to renormalize its ties with Iran. Thus, it returned its ambassador to Tehran days after the crisis (Baabood. 2018). Iran and Qatar after the crisis emerged stronger than before but the Qatari policies towards Iran are preserved for economic and energy reasons only. Eventually, “Doha’s policy towards Iran remains therefore a pragmatic one not overshadowing the fundamental differences in values and ideology between the two countries”. However, “Iran has so far benefitted from the crisis exploiting the situation economically and politically to present itself as a reliable partner in times of crisis” (Boussois, 2019). This article relies on economic relations, bilateral relations and visits of officials of Qatar and Iran before and after the 2017 crisis to examine the extent of the relationship between Iran and Qatar. In addition, it seeks to unveil the mechanisms pushing toward convergence of the two countries. The study is divided into three axes. The first axe “the GCC, a past of unity”, digs deep into the history of GCC organization until 2011. The second axe is “Crossroad of the Gulf Countries”; it states stances of different emerging blocks within the GCC, while the third axe “Gulf Crises and Regional implications” discusses the implications of Gulf crises. The last axe “Iranian Qatari relations :pre-and post-2017 crisis” compares the Qatari-Iranian pre-and post-2017 crisis.

the GCC, a Past of Unity

The first attempts to establish a unified entity for Arabian Peninsula countries roots back to the Saudi efforts that call for deployment of a joint military force to respond in case of jeopardy threatening Gulf states’ sovereignty (Al Hassan, 2014). Saudi failed efforts were followed by submission of a proposal by Omani Sultan Qaboos in which he called for a conference of foreign ministers of the six Arabian Peninsula countries in addition to Iran and Iraq. Although the conference gathered different contenders to sit at same table in the late of November 1976 that ended up by a call for closer cooperation between countries of the region and an agreed regional security and defense policy, no single achievement was made because of rise of tension between Iraqi regime and Shah regime in Iran (Al Makhawi, 1990). The third attempt to create a regional organization for Gulf Countries, but with remarkable focus on economic potential, cultural and political advantages of cooperation, was backed by Kuwait in order to achieve unity among Gulf Countries (Al Hassan, 2014).

Internal changes in addition to regional developments made six countries of the Arabian Peninsula aware of threats facing their region, mainly after the Islamic revolution in Iran, the escalation of tension between Iran and Iraq, the fall of King Muhammad Rizā Shāh Pahlevi’s regime in Iran and adoption of exporting revolution by the new regime in Iran incentivized Saudi Shiite citizens in eastern provinces to revolt against Sunni regime of Saudi Arabia, unrest manifested by citizens of Kuwait and Bahrain where the majority of population are Shiites as well, and other Gulf countries had similar uprisings in addition to terrorist attacks against both citizens and officials. But, the aggressive action of Iran that bombed Kuwaiti territories in December 1980 revealed part of future destiny of these countries making them in no doubt that violent attacks could spread to their vulnerable territories at any time (Al Makhawi, 1990).

Despite the existed divisions between the ruling elites in Gulf countries such as tensions between Bahrain and Qatar, and between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Cordesman, 1997), the Arabian Peninsula Countries share many similarities, such as the hereditary political regimes, shared borders, common geography, common history and Arabian culture… these were the reasons and motives to establish a collective platform unifying and gathering efforts of member states in different fields of interests and having a common action against any regional or international events and developments. On 25th of May 1981, heads of states signed the charter to establish the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf with an aim to achieve the following objectives:

Objectives:

The basic objectives of the Cooperation Council are:

  • To effect coordination, integration and inter-connection between Member States in all fields in order to achieve unity between them.
  • To deepen and strengthen relations, links and areas of cooperation now prevailing between their peoples in various fields. 
  • To formulate similar regulations in various fields including the following: 
  • Economic and financial affairs 
  • Commerce, customs and communications 
  • Education and culture 
  • To stimulate scientific and technological progress in the fields of industry, mining, agriculture, water and animal resources; to establish scientific research; to establish joint ventures and encourage cooperation by the private sector for the good of their peoples (GCC Charter).

Despite the stated motives behind the creation of GCC in its charter, many believe that motives dictated by prevailing regional and international conditions and developments are the factors behind the GCC establishment. This region is considered with high importance for two key factors. First, the region’s strategic location for international trade. Second, the region’s oil reserves counted to be one third of the global oil reserves, a reason that made the region with important value for international economy. In addition to that, other factors were behind GCC foundation: the internal implications of the new regime in Iran after the Islamic revolution in 1979 (Export of revolution and Shiite uprisings), “tanker war” (Al Makhawi, 1990), the failure of the only Arab organization (Arab Nations League established on March 22nd, 1945, to unify Arabs and confront regional and international events and developments) and regional instability and deterioration of regional security (Iraq-Iran war) (Barrie et al. 2019). As a result, the creation of the Cooperation Council of the Arab States of the Gulf came as a response to the aforementioned factors.

Crossroad of the Gulf Countries

Since its emergence as independent states, GCC countries shared many similarities and tended to have similar stances over many regional and international developments (Table 1 shows decisions of GCC countries over major regional events from its independence to the beginning of popular uprising in MENA region in 2011).

Table 1: Gulf Countries’ stances over major regional events
Supporting Iraq (Iraq-Iran war) Supporting Kuwait (Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait) Supporting US (US’s invasion of Iraq Fighting against Houthis in Yemen before 2017 References
Saudi Arabia Yes Yes Yes Yes Shahram C. Tripp, C (2014). Nufal, A. (1991)). (Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Kuwait Yes Yes Yes Yes Shahram C. Tripp, C (2014). Nufal, A. (1991). (Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
Bahrain Yes Yes Yes Yes Shahram C. Tripp, C (2014). Nufal, A. (1991). (Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR)
Qatar Yes Yes Yes Yes Shahram C. Tripp, C (2014). Nufal, A. (1991). (Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
UAE Yes Yes Yes Yes Shahram C. Tripp, C (2014). Nufal, A. (1991). (Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Oman 1-0 1-0 Yes No Baabood, A. (2018). Nufal, A. (1991). (Lefebvre, J. (2009), Alterman, J. (2007) & ÇETĐNOĞLU, N. (2010)). The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
No: opponent, Yes: supporter, 1-0: neither supporter nor opponent

2011 marked the beginning of a new era in GCC interrelations’ history. As protests were sparked in Tunisia, it spread quickly in north Africa and Middle East causing more challenges for GCC member states as they have not been immune to the waves of protests. Reaction of authorities in these countries differed. While some countries warded off protests by offering jobs and huge investments, other countries, mainly Qatar did not consider the popular uprising as a security threat. As a result, different behaviors led to the emergence of different blocs as follows:

Anti-Popular Uprising Bloc

When protests arrived at some Gulf countries’ streets and the influence of popular uprising became clearer internally, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain setup very clear anti-democratization policies to halt demands of citizens in their countries and neighboring ones as well. The aforementioned states backed Mubarak in Egypt in order to promote stability and maintain their interests. Once Mubarak regime fell, they chose to back army elite and support the political regime in Egypt after coup d’état led by Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Saudi Arabia and the UAE considered Muslim Brotherhood group as source of threat to their internal security and ended up classifying the group as a terrorist group (Sailer, 2016 & Al-Matter, 2016). As this movement won elections in Egypt, it was regarded as an Islamic political competitor that sets an example of moderate Sunni Islamic governing that came to power through democratic election contrary to the strict Salafist hereditary regime in Saudi Arabia and traditional regimes in UAE and Bahrain. A successful experience of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt meant a threat that could encourage citizens of anti-change bloc to provoke social chaos which could at the end lead to social conflict.

All these factors made it clear for anti-popular uprising bloc and necessary to let social and political change spread all over the region of Middle East and North Africa in order to halt the popular uprising internally and in their region as well. Gulf Countries provided financial and political aids and support to countries in the region. “They gave Jordan $1.4bn in aid and took both Jordan and Morocco into the Saudi-dominated Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC). Along with other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to quash the Shia-dominated protest” (the Guardian, 2011). The leading members of this bloc were characterized by a negative perspective about the Popular Uprising.

“Two crucially entangled aspects determined their attitude: First, the notion of change, especially revolutionary change; as they are stable fixed monarchies in which terms such as reform, change and revolution are not well received. Secondly, both regimes have aggressive attitudes toward Political Islamist movements, The Muslim Brotherhood in particular, which initially appeared to be the upcoming regimes in all of the Arab Spring countries.” (Othman, T. 2014)

Pro-Change Bloc:

Among pro-change powers, Qatar was the only Gulf country to support voices calling for change and democratization in many countries across the MENA region. Despite its very limited area (11,521 square kilometers) and population (in 2019, the country has an estimated population of 2.83 million (Government of Qatar), but most people (88.4%) are non-Qatari residents and Qatari people are at only (11.6%) ( World Population Review), Qatar enjoys a very high GDP per capita and rapid increasing gas and oil revenues. The distribution of national fortune gave more legitimacy to the ruling family of al-Thani and kept popular uprising and anger away from its streets. It was domestically quiet, but on the other hand, its foreign policy was very active and efficient.

The popular uprising was considered by Qatar as an opportunity to expand its influence across the region. It supported youth aspirations in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and other countries. The tiny ultra-rich Gulf country (Qatar) allied itself with the growing movement of Muslim Brotherhood considered by its Gulf neighboring countries as a security threat. Qatar’s standing for revolutions and Muslim Brotherhood was obvious (Kirkpatrick, D 2012). On June 4th, 2014 the head of state of Qatar (the emir Sheikh Tamim) denounced what he called a “military coup” that took place on July 2013 in Egypt (Hassan, 2014).

Qatar’s support to revolutions and popular uprising stands on three pillars: the use of its giant media corporation “Aljazeera” to cover protests and make voices get heard. The second pillar was to provide financial support to new regimes and movements, for instance: supporting Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led movement by financing the Egyptian Central Bank. The third pillar was embodied by state’s official diplomacy. Qatar did not consider these movements and regimes a source of threat as many neighboring countries did. It was a great supporter of change. Moreover, it confronted its neighboring country the UAE which did not regard the arrival of Muslim Brotherhood to power favorably (Almarzoqi, M 2014). However, Egypt was not the only country representing conflict of interests of the Gulf countries. Qatar had different stances over Libyan revolution as it was the first country to recognize the Libyan transitional national council after the fall of Gadhafi’s regime (Colombo, S 2012).

Non-Aligned Bloc:

Oman and Kuwait in comparison to other Gulf countries showed neutral positions about popular uprising and tended to offer support to non-GCC countries only when positions and stances of other members of anti and pro change blocs are clear and unified.

Despite the conflicting interests of pro and anti-change blocs, the GCC countries agreed on some regional affairs as they were brought for instance to fight shoulder to shoulder against Houthis in Yemen  who are seen by Saudi Arabia and the UAE mainly as a terrorist group, but as a legitimate component of Yemen’s political scene by Qatar (Edward B, 2013). Moreover, all the GCC countries considered Syria with enormous importance and wanted to limit Iranian involvement in the region by separating Syria from the Iranian axis. They had similar approach to overthrown Al-Assad’s regime in Syria and offered to help rebellions.

Gulf Crises and Regional Implications

“2014 Ambassadors’ Crisis”

The popular uprising of 2011 had tremendous implications on Gulf Countries. The new political division within the gulf countries that was never witnessed led to different blocs with conflicting interests and motivated state members to look for a resolution. Despite their efforts (GCC conference held on November 23rd, 2013) to halt financial or political support to anti-government activist groups (Herb. J & Scuitto. J, 2017), both blocs (anti- and pro-change in the region) continued to support with tangible (financial support…) and intangible support (media coverage…) individuals, parties and organizations deemed as security threatening for other gulf member states.

The Gulf countries’ conflicting interests ended up in unprecedented demeanor against Qatar when anti-change bloc withdrew their ambassadors to Doha in March 2014. The “Ambassadors’ Crisis” lasted nine months. After the mediation of Kuwait, member states of the GCC met in Saudi Arabia on November 16th, 2014 and agreed on offering help and support to“…Egypt’s stability, including preventing Al Jazeera from being used as a platform for groups or figures challenging the Egyptian government” (Herb. J & Scuitto. J, 2017). and applying “refrain from hosting or employing unacceptable individuals” (Kabalan, 2018).

This agreement ended the nine-month long crisis and resulted in the return of the ambassadors to Doha. Although the regular GCC Summit was held in Doha in December as an indication of convergence and understanding, in reality, there was a crisis of confidence within the GCC states which led to holding different positions on a number of matters, because of the absence of a clear and common vision on the nature of the threats facing other members of the GCC and non-understanding of interests of other member states.

2017 Crisis and the New Gulf

Although the GCC countries signed the 2014 agreement to unify their stances, it felt as if Qatar was forced to such an agreement and meaning that fire was still under the ashes. The absence of a clear and common vision on the nature of the challenges and threats of other members of the GCC and non-understanding of interests of other member states led to lack of confidence and escalation of tension especially after the controversial statements posted by the state-run Qatar News Agency. The QNA statements showed comments made by the Emir of Qatar who affirmed the good relationship between Qatar and Iran calling Iran a “big power” (Wintour, 2017). However, Qatar claimed that its national news broadcaster had been hacked and denied the statements. This was the opportunity for anti-change bloc in addition to Egypt to launch enormous media campaigns against Qatar and its leadership and refused the Qatari excuses.

The media onslaught can be explained by the previous tension between the two blocs over many regional matters. On June 5th, 2017, GCC anti-popular uprising bloc and Egypt announced unexpected and surprising severance of diplomatic relations with Qatar. Furthermore, there was a suspending of land, air and sea travel from and to Qatar (Aleem, 2017). Few days later, the anti-change bloc considered by Qatar as besieging countries, escalated tension by launching further anti-Qatar decisions and policies such as banning their citizens to travel to Qatar and asking Qatari residents in their territories to leave. However, more surprising decisions that had never took place before in gulf history were planned to end up by invading Qatar (Aljazeera, 2017). Anti-change block foreign policies towards Qatar deepened misunderstanding between the two blocks but more importantly impacted the GCC unity.

Iranian Qatari Relations Before and After the 2017 Crisis

Qatar-Iranian Economic Relations:

The Gulf crisis in 2017 had a severe impact on economic relations between the two blocs. Qatari imports from the anti-change bloc and Egypt, dramatically decreased in 2018 to 2.19% on the base of 2016 when total imports of Qatar from these countries amounted to around five billion dollars (4,932,528.14 thousand $) in 2016 and to (107,882.47 thousand $) in 2018 (the graph 1 and 2 show Qatari imports and exports to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt from 2010, a year before the popular uprising in the MENA region, to 2018, a year after GCC crisis in 2017) (Data retrieved from: World Integrated Trade Solution).

Graph 1: Imports of Qatar from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt 2010-2018

Graph 2: Exports of Qatar to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt 2010-2018

The decision of anti-change/ anti-popular uprising to besiege Qatar left the latter to rely on imports from Iran to feed its people. Imposing an air, sea and land embargo on Qatar forced it to look for other routes in its surrounding.  On the other hand, Iran and Qatar share access to the world’s largest natural gas field (Finn, 2016), a milestone in the economic relations of the two countries. Iran considered the GCC crisis an opportunity not only to shatter down the unity of its competing power in the region but also an economic fortuity. As a result, it allowed Qatar to use its airspace and shipping routes, but also increased exports to and imports from Qatar. Qatari imports from Iran then increased with 498% from (83,931.75  thousand $) in 2016 to (418,403.96 thousand $) in 2018 (Graph 3 illustrates the development of Qatari imports from Iran from 2010, a year before the popular uprising in the MENA region, to 2018, a year after GCC crisis in 2017) (Data retrieved from: World Integrated Trade Solution).

Graph 3: Imports of Qatar from Iran between 2010-2018

the Qatar’s exports are oil and gas (or oil and gas related products such as chemical products) and the Iranian counterpart enjoys huge production of petroleum as well. Eventually, no huge transaction took place between the two countries. The Qatari exports to Iran were remarkably decreasing from 2010 to 2015 which can be explained by the US sanctions on Iran. However, 2016, the year that Iran reached nuclear deal with Obama’s administration, witnessed a notable increase in Qatari exports to Iran which added up to (13512.56 thousand $). After that, a slight increase in Qatari exports to Iran was remarked (Graph 4 illustrates the development of Qatari Exports to Iran from 2010, a year before the popular uprising in the MENA region, to 2018, a year after GCC crisis in 2017) (World Integrated Trade Solution).

Graph 4: Imports of Qatar from Iran between 2010-2018

The intra GCC crisis ended up in strengthening Qatar-Iranian economic relations, Particularly Qatari imports from Iran after 2017. However, Qatar maintained steady, or slightly increased or decreased, imports and exports with member states of Non-Aligned bloc (Graph 5 illustrates the development of Qatari exports and imports from states of Non-Aligned bloc -Oman and Kuwait- between 2010 and 2018).

Graph 5: Qatari imports and exports from Oman and Kuwait between 2010-2018

Qatar-Iranian Bilateral Relations:

For many years, GCC countries were backing each other whenever one of them is targeted by Iran either directly (violent activities against diplomatic missions…) or indirectly (historical claims to Bahrain…). During pre-2017 period, all members of the two aforementioned blocs had similar stances. For instance, Qatar withdraw its ambassador to Tehran in 2016 after Iranian protesters looted both Saudi embassy and consulate. Once the anti-change bloc members severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed a land, air and sea blockade, the latter restored ties with Tehran and sent back its ambassador (Aljazeera, 2017).

Qatar withdraw its ambassador to Tehran in January 2016 after its Gulf ally cut ties with Islamic Republic of Iran due to the failure of the latter in protecting Saudi embassy and consulate against protesters who had looted them. These tense relations between Iran and Qatar will totally be restored after three Gulf countries and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and imposed an air, land and sea blockade. On August 2017, a new stage of Iranian and Qatari relations was launched as the latter decided to restore its diplomatic ties by returning its ambassador to Tehran. The Gulf crisis led up to significant bilateral relations and visits and the strengthening of Qatar-Iran relations. By relying on different media news, we are going to check out chronologically bilateral visits of officials, extract speeches of officials from both countries and agreements and memorandums signed by official actors of Qatar and Iran.

Nine months after the GCC crisis, an Iranian delegation visited Doha looking for cooperation and developing relations with Qatar. The head of delegation, reported by Iranian national news agency, Deputy Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ Navy Rear Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, said “Ground is ready for development of cooperation with Qatar and we are doing our best to have stronger relations with Doha” (Iran National New Agency, 2019). To improve its relations with Iran, Qatar sent a delegation to Iran in order to seek the opportunity to invest in Iranian ports and “establish long-term strategic relations with Iran” (Majidyar, 2018). Only a month later, Iran sent another delegation considered the first of its kind since 13 years. The delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Industry held discussions in Doha on six panels: trade, mines, customs, oil, petrochemicals, exports and banking (The National, 2018). As Qatar relied more on imports from Iran, the 140th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) held in Doha-Qatar on Saturday 6th April 2019 was an opportunity to several protocols between Qatari officials and Iranian officials who arrived at Doha to take part in the assembly (Iran Press News Agency, 2019). In an aspiration to solve the GCC crisis, Qatar has been during the first two years after the GCC crisis cautious in dealing with Iran. As tension escalated between USA and Iran, Qatar proposed mediation when its foreign minister flew to Tehran to seek ways to resolve the growing crisis with the United States (Aljazeera, 2019). But despite the Qatari efforts to ease the tension between the United States and Iran, the latter considered the presence of US forces in the region a source of instability as Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs declared while visiting Doha and meeting the head of state of Qatar the Emir Tamim bin Hamad in August 12th 2019 (Iran Press News Agency, 2019).

Qatar Iran bilateral relations started by exchange of visits on level of delegation and then ministerial level in late 2019. In 2020, the bilateral relation between the two countries witnessed a surprising leap when head of state of Qatar visited Iran on January 11th, 2020. The president of Iran Hassan Rouhani’s important decisions were taken about enhancing bilateral relations and security in the region (Financial Tribune, Jan 2020). Since pro-2017 GCC crisis, Doha and Tehran have improved their bilateral relations. Qatar stood by Iran during the current covid-19 epidemic and assisted Tehran in fighting the coronavirus outbreak (Financial Tribune, Feb 2020). As efforts to solve the GCC crisis failed, it is undoubtably sure that bilateral visits and relation between Iran and Qatar will scale up and become stronger.

Conclusion:

The anti-change bloc severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar and imposed a total blockade to compel Qatar to give up supporting Muslim Brotherhood and young aspirations in the region. As a result, Qatar found itself isolated with only one gate to the world through Iran with which it shares the world’s largest natural gas field beneath the waters of the Gulf (Finn, 2016). Moreover, Iran has provided help to the isolated country since the first days of the crisis. As a result, the crisis was counterproductive and added fuel to the fire in a region suffering from high tension between Iran and Arabs and pushed Qatar away from the Gulf to the Iranian circle with implications for Middle East’s complicated geopolitical order.

After around four decades since its creation, the GCC was not able to overcome the crisis threatening the unity of its member states because of the absence of an effective mechanism to use in conflicts resolution. Furthermore, the GCC did not realize neither its declared goals nor undeclared ones, mainly defense and security. With no resolution on the horizon, the 2017 crisis with Qatar made the GCC a dormant organization granting Iran more involvement in the region and weakening the position of blockading countries.

References:

المركز الديمقراطى العربى

المركز الديمقراطي العربي مؤسسة مستقلة تعمل فى اطار البحث العلمى والتحليلى فى القضايا الاستراتيجية والسياسية والاقتصادية، ويهدف بشكل اساسى الى دراسة القضايا العربية وانماط التفاعل بين الدول العربية حكومات وشعوبا ومنظمات غير حكومية.

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