x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Qatar must explain its policy positions

Unity in the GCC depends on Qatar being willing to engage in an open dialogue over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood

In a disagreement as fraught with emotions as the current dispute between three GCC nations and Qatar, it is always important to seek ways to lower the volume. That does not mean, however, compromising on the origins of the disagreement. This week Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Saud Al Faisal said there could be dialogue if Qatar “modifies the policies that are at the origin of the crisis”. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain this month recalled their ambassadors from Doha, the final in a series of steps designed to convey to Qatar the displeasure of the three Gulf states over its policies towards the Muslim Brotherhood.

What, precisely, does Qatar want from the Brotherhood? Or, rather, why is Doha privileging its relationship with the Brotherhood over its relationship with the GCC?

The links between the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar go back a long way. And there have always been differences in the way GCC countries handle their internal affairs. Being part of a regional organisation does not mean that all six countries have to agree on everything.

And yet some disagreements have more at stake than others. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf states are relatively small and have to find ways to “punch above their weight” as the phrase runs. Both the UAE and Qatar have done this to great effect. Perhaps for Doha, forging links with the Brotherhood seemed like a smart political move.

But if that is the case, Doha should say so clearly, otherwise the remaining Gulf states can only guess. The basis for dialogue has to be a statement of what Doha wants and how it believes it can achieve that. Only then can a real discussion take place with its neighbours.

It appears that Doha has underestimated both the degree of feeling in Arab countries against the Brotherhood and the pernicious influence of its politics. The UAE looks at the recent trial of members of the Brotherhood-linked Islah organisation and sees a systematic attempt to influence its internal affairs. No country could tolerate such actions, and certainly could not be expected to stand by while that same organisation was supported by a neighbour. Remaining relevant in the world means remaining united. No pan-Arab grouping is as relevant today in the Middle East as the GCC. It needs to remain so. That will take dialogue and understanding, and the starting point should be Doha trying to see things from the perspective of its neighbours.