The 36-year-old institution meets in Kuwait this week, with a legacy of solidarity not disagreement
The GCC is a symbol of unity and strength in times of trouble
On a warm summer’s day in 1981, several men sat around a table in the ballroom of the Intercontinental Hotel, Abu Dhabi, and embarked on what was to be a momentous episode in the history of the Middle East. Welcomed by Sheikh Zayed, the rulers of six countries solemnly vowed to honour the constitution of the newly formed Gulf Cooperation Council, with a pledge to be “aware of the ties of special relations, common characteristics and similar systems founded on the creed of Islam which binds them”. That first summit of the GCC – or Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, to give it its full title – has become an annual tradition, marking the bonds of faith, culture and mutual respect and understanding which tie together its member states. Despite their occasional political disagreements, the six allies, made up of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar, have for the past 36 years come together to reaffirm their commitment to shared values.
This year’s two-day meet will take place in Kuwait, where the respected emir has already dispatched invitations and begun preparations to welcome fellow leaders from the Arabian Gulf. The summit comes despite the current dispute with Qatar, as the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt continue to call for Doha's halting of support for terrorism. With links between the countries severed since June, this summit is unlikely to end the boycott of Qatar unless it changes ways. But as Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir said last month, the row is “a small non-issue” and there are bigger matters at stake, which cannot be overshadowed with a row. The reality is that the summit will not bring a resolution to the Qatari crisis but nor is it intended to resolve disputes. Its purpose is bigger than the sum of its parts; namely, to present a united front, to celebrate common goals and values and to enrich the lives of its collective population. It is the commonalities, not the differences, that are marked every year with the summit, whose continuity and show of unity is a signpost to the rest of the region and the world of the strength of the institution. There is no greater symbol of this than Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad, the Kuwaiti emir overseeing proceedings. His role in the crisis has been one of chief mediator and negotiator, pouring oil on troubled waters with a call to unite and the words: "We are one part of two brothers". Respect for his status and his wisdom has the power to bring countries together. Those special ties run deep and never more than when they are tested.