The Gulf Cooperation Council Fades As The Qatari Blockade Backfires

Qatar was undoubtedly known for its great wealth and luxury prior to the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and its allies, Bahrain and the UAE. However, like most other Gulf States, its name, its success was overshadowed by its big beast of a neighbor: Saudi Arabia. Qatar’s geographic, religious, and ethnic proximity to its Gulf neighbors, knitted together by the Gulf Cooperation Council, fostered a weak, but present sense of trust between the states. The superficiality of their loyalty to each other has truly become evident over the past year — the Qatari blockade being the prime example. Previously dependent on a single supplier for its oil production, the blockade was not only an emotional stab for Qatari citizens, but has also caused Qatar to permanently alter its economy. This alteration incited Qatar’s growing independence and since then has given the country a more unique voice and more freedom in its decisions. Additionally, the blockade has splintered the region, which has allowed, and will continue to allow, foreign forces, such as Iran, to seep into Gulf States affairs through this new vulnerability — completely defeating the purpose of the GCC. Whether or not the GCC unified or protected its members in the first place, its validity as an institution, through an international perspective at least, was saved by a guise of unity.

With the training wheels harshly torn off, Qatar suffered a period of imbalance, especially when the blockade inhibited the importation of food and medicine to Qatari citizens, as stated by Saad al-Kaabi, the CEO of Qatar’s state-run Petroleum. The sea, land, and air blockade forced Qatar to quickly recalibrate its economic system by heavily concentrating on Liquefied Natural Gas production. According to al-Kaabi, Qatar has reached the point of supplying ⅓ of the world’s LNG demands. This business continuity plan, that was already in place prior to the blockade, pivoted Qatar’s political power and increased its economic independence, with its separation from OPEC cementing its flight from the rest of the Gulf States. While Qatar was one of OPEC’s founding members, according to Gross and Ghafar from the Brookings Institute, OPEC is known for being dominated by Saudi Arabia and Russia. Therefore by leaving OPEC, Qatar is further escaping the grip of this business and political hegemony. After a year and a half of forced isolation from its neighbors, Qatar has designed a more unique name for itself. As displayed by Saad al-Kaabi’s LNG expansion plans, presented in an interview with Al Jazeera on December 3rd, 2018, to increase production by 30% — thus exporting 100 million tons annually — and its growing, diverse clientele, Qatar no longer needs to return to its previous mode of production. General speculation over the future of the blockade fears that the there is “No end in sight”, as a caption in a recent Brookings Institute article states. Saad al-Kaabi  told Al Jazeera that Qatar has no intention to return to business or significant political cooperation with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or Bahrain. However, unlike the negative tone of the caption “No end in sight”, Saad al-Kaabi’s tone insinuated that Qatar no longer viewed the GCC-Qatari “Crisis” as a crisis. It seems that many perceive the new, high-tension relationship between Qatar and Saudi Arabia as possibly an end to inter-Gulf cooperation, but Qatar views it as a wake up call, a new normal.

The GCC was originally created to seal any vulnerabilities the region might have in response to Iran’s growing presence and influence after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, as Rami Khouri reminds us in his Al Jazeera article, “Will the GCC fall apart?”. The political differences between the Gulf States allows for little solidarity, meaning that their shared dislike and weariness of Iran is arguably their sole unifier. Alienating one of the members of the GCC is therefore a dangerous game to play. Within only the past year and a half, Qatar has, according to Saad al-Kaabi, built relationships with Iran, Turkey, and other states, increasing Iran’s influence in the region once more. Not only does it completely defeat the original security-based purpose of the GCC, but it also incites fear amongst other small Gulf States. According to Khouri’s research, Kuwaiti and Omani scholars have said privately, “that their countries fear that they could be subjected to the same Saudi-Emirati bullying tactics that have been employed against Qatar”. This reveals a dynamic between the Gulf States hypocritical to the council’s name, The Gulf Cooperation Council, indicative of a council characterized by mutual agreements. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have camouflaged their bullying tactics within the GCC’s reputation of compromise, conversation, and equity. However, this camouflage is quickly fading away, especially for Saudi Arabia, with recents events such as the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, its continuation of the war in Yemen, and the Qatari blockade which also dipped into inhumane actions. Saudi Arabia has stabbed itself in the back. It drives the decisions of a toothless institution that pushes its former allies into the hands of its enemies.

Some scholars argue that the GCC’s alienation of Qatar and Qatar’s exit from OPEC will not be dangerous or influence other countries to do the same. As King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has made clear in an Al-Monitor article by Giorgio Cafiero, the Qatari crisis is not a priority issue for them, which is evidence that Qatar’s actions are not perceived as threats. In a Brookings Institute article by Samantha Gross and Adel Abdel Ghafar, they argue that they “don’t see Qatar’s departure encouraging other countries to head for the exit”. OPEC, whose power is questionable because its ability to change the oil market is uncertain, according to Ghafar and Gross, and which is governing the distribution of a resource that Saad al-Kaabi predicts to run out around 2022, is proving to be another institution in decline. Saudi Arabia derives a lot of its power from its domination over OPEC as Saudi Arabia is the world’s greatest exporter of oil , and it has wielded that power within the GCC. If OPEC’s sway is in decline, as Qatar has boldly proven through its successful independization, other members of OPEC, especially other Gulf States subject to Saudi Arabia’s bullying, may also feel inclined to also stray away from Saudi pressure. Qatar has shown the rest of the Gulf that adherence to OPEC, cooperation with the GCC, and obedience to Saudi Arabia isn’t necessary for their survival. Additionally, oil scarcity will hit the oil business soon — another reason why other Gulf States may follow in Qatar’s steps. OPEC will lose its validity, and Saudi Arabia will begin to lose its legitimacy. The Saudi-led Qatari blockade has exposed Saudi Arabia’s real reason for utilizing the GCC. It has been used as a facade, a cover to hide its aggressive tactics against Qatar, at least recently. The implementation of the Qatari blockade, and its continuation despite criticism, has shattered the fragile trust that tied the Gulf States together, rendering the Gulf Cooperation Council absolutely useless.