Top officials of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have met for the first time in over three years, according to reporting of Al Jazeera. The meeting follows last month’s al-Ula declaration, in which the U.A.E. (in addition to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt) agreed to end the severance of diplomatic ties with Qatar they had agreed upon in 2017.
Although not many specific details regarding the meeting are known, the two delegations reportedly “emphasized the importance of preserving Gulf kinship,” according to the U.A.E.’s state news WAM. Similar sentiments were evoked in January’s al-Ula declaration, which opened the borders between Qatar and its neighbours and promised bilateral talks between Qatar and each of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Bahrain.
The détente marks the end of three years of diplomatic hostility and economic blockade between the Gulf nations after Qatar was accused of sponsoring terroristic activities by its neighbours in June 2017. The then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, expressed concern over the human rights implications of the blockade, including the fate of dual nationals and Qatar sympathizers in other gulf countries. “I am also extremely troubled to hear that the U.A.E. and Bahrain are threatening to jail and fine people who express sympathy for Qatar or opposition to their own governments’ actions,” noted Al Hussein.
The “terroristic activities” in question included sponsoring the activities of the Taliban, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood but the accusation rings somewhat hollow when coming from Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Both have been known to consort with the Muslim Brotherhood and, in the former’s case, Al Qaeda, as noted in the New York Times. Armed resistance in the Middle East is not a new story, and each state in question has historically been liable for sponsoring violence in order to consolidate its interests in the region.
The lifting of the blockade is surely a good thing for the millions of human beings living within gulf countries, but it does not absolve the governments of any past wrongdoing. However, they should see the opening of borders, and the positive international response which ensued (UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, among others, voiced his praise) as a potential model for future behaviour.
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