As the blockade of Qatar enters its third year with no solutions on the horizon, it seems that the crisis will continue indefinitely. Several countries continue to enforce a land, air and sea blockade of Qatar, while Doha still refuses to cede to their demands, arguing that this would be an infringement on its sovereignty and independence, and interference in its domestic affairs. In the meantime, much has shifted in intra-Gulf relations, and in the Gulf’s regional and international relations. In the face of the Saudi-Emirati bilateral alliance and coordination on several foreign policy issues, other Gulf states are growing more distant, forging unilateral ties to other states, and looking to regional and international alliances outside the Gulf system, all of which has had an adverse impact on intra-Gulf relations.
How should we read intra-Gulf relations two years after the start of the Qatar blockade? What are the repercussions of the crisis on the Gulf countries?
“Qatar’s Experience in Good Governance”
Not too long ago, the Gulf Cooperation Council was the sole Arab regional institution operating consistently and actively with a cumulative record of accomplishments and a coherent collective vision. There were even calls to turn the GCC into a Gulf Union. Since the Qatar blockade, however, this trend reversed, as the institution was paralyzed and unable to play its original role. Not only has the GCC been unable to repair the rift among member states, foster a rapprochement for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and coordinate positions to confront common security threats, but all of its agencies have been brought to a standstill and are now struggling to survive. If the Gulf system as a whole has less strategic influence today, the biggest loser has been Saudi Arabia. Whereas it traditionally used the GCC to leverage its influence in the region and elsewhere, its influence is now waning.
How has the Gulf crisis affected the GCC, specifically the leadership role played by Saudi Arabia? Can it survive, much less reclaim its strategic heft?
Seven months after the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the issue is still a live one in various media outlets and foreign policy circles. Setting off a new crisis in the already crisis-ridden Middle East, the assassination also exposed a different face of Saudi policy in the region and shed light on other tragedies, such as the war in Yemen, the Qatar blockade, Saudi Arabia’s role in Lebanon, and the kingdom’s treatment of dissidents at home and abroad.
Saudi Arabia’s image shifted from a country seen as a major regional power and guarantor of security and stability, to a state threatening security, fomenting crises, and meddling in the internal affairs of other states.
Is the Khashoggi assassination a fleeting crisis, or will the incident and the issues it raises have more profound consequences for Saudi Arabia’s conduct and its domestic and foreign policies?
With the proliferation of Middle East crises and the lack of effective regional and international conflict resolution instruments, the arms race has picked up steam. The Middle East is now the world’s leading importer of weapons.
A report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute issued in March of this year puts Saudi Arabia in first place as the world’s biggest arms importer, with the kingdom having doubled its weapons purchases in the past five years compared to the preceding five-year period. The report also noted that the Middle East accounts for more than one-third of global arms purchases.
Weapons imports have increased dramatically not only in Saudi Arabia, but also Egypt, Israel, the UAE, and Qatar. The race is gathering momentum amid a highly charged regional context, as tensions in some arenas threaten to spill into open conflict – in addition to several already existing conflicts.
Where is the region heading in light of this arms race and heightened war footing? Can the region’s decision makers recalibrate and direct their people’s resources to development and stability, rather than conflict and regional and global security threats?
Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination highlighted important aspects of the US’ Middle East policy toward the Arab Gulf, Israel, and Iran, the latter whose regional influence the US administration and its allies seek to contain.
To list some of the challenges facing US policy in the Middle East:
What are the US’s policy priorities in the Middle East? What are the ramifications for Gulf relations, the Iranian issue, the Palestinian Question, and the Yemen War?
The Khashoggi assassination was not simply a criminal act committed under cover of darkness. It quickly acquired the status of a political crime in light of the circumstances, time, and place of its commission; the nature and connections of the perpetrators; and the regional and international fallout.
But the primary factor that made the incident a focus of Arab and international attention was undoubtedly the critical role of the media in exposing the facts, following up on details, and informing public opinion.
Khashoggi’s unique position – a columnist working at one of the biggest US newspapers – as well as the broad coverage on Al Jazeera and in the Turkish press, which was the prime source of information, raises questions about the media’s role in confronting political crime.
How did the Arab and international media cover the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi? Where did they succeed and where did they fail in exposing the truth and setting the media, political, and public agenda?
The Gulf crisis has stripped the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council of much of their strategic influence, with adverse impacts on their regional roles. As a result, some member states have directed their attention to the Gulf crisis instead of external threats and their common future.
At the same time, the regional balance of power is being reshaped by rising regional powers like Turkey and Iran, which seek to extend their influence with both soft power and direct military intervention.
Preoccupied with other matters, the Gulf is largely excluded from the equation. For the second year, Qatar lives under a blockade led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while Yemen is torn apart by a destructive war led by the same two states – a war that has now entered its fifth year with no end in sight.
The assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi exposed the dark side of Saudi Arabia’s domestic policies, shaking its global image and sapping more of its stature and influence in the Gulf system and the region.
Will the near future see a serious reconsideration of Saudi and Emirati policies that threaten the unity of the Gulf order? Will the Gulf reclaim its cohesion and its ability to make a positive contribution to the new regional balance of power?
The Gulf Crisis is often seen only through the prism of its strategic and political implications, but this crisis is fairly unique in that it has reached new depths in the virtual world – especially on Twitter.
Twitter was the go-to place where Gulf politicians postured and outlined their demands, and the main source for the leaks from their intelligence agencies and psychological warfare units.
Twitter is where activists and officials called each other out, and it was the place where journalists chose sides.
Welcome to the world of the Gulf’s Hashtag Wars, where the trolls reign sovereign.
The Al Jazeera Media Institute launches it’s latest publication, A Guidebook on Data Journalism, focusing on helping newsrooms “interview” data. Speakers: