Reconciliation between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors: "a cold peace" according to Stéphane Lacroix

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) greets Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Al Ula, Saudi Arabia on January 5, 2021. Bandar Al-Jaloud Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

Text by: Nicolas Falez Follow

6 min

Saudi Arabia announced on January 5, 2021 the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Qatar and the 4 countries in the region which had boycotted it since June 2017. A reconciliation summit which took place in al Ula, in the north of the kingdom Saudi.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt criticized Qatar for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements in the region, and for being too conciliatory towards Iran.

The analysis of Stéphane Lacroix, professor at Sciences Po, researcher at CERI


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Nicolas Falez: After a three and a half boycott by 4 countries in the region, Qatar is back in the game when it does not seem to have given in on the demands that were asked of it, is it a victory?

Stéphane Lacroix

: We get the impression, from what we know, that Qatar made no concessions on anything even though in 2017 the countries which had decided to boycott Qatar had issued a list of demands, such as shutting down the Al-Jazeera channel, stopping giving asylum to political opponents from boycotting countries, etc.

However, for the moment, Qatar has made no concessions.

In that sense, Qatar actually held on.

He does not make concessions, he managed for three and a half years to replace what he had lost by building new relations with countries which until then were not in his sphere of influence, in any case the 'were less, like Iran and Turkey with whom he moved closer to make up for what he had lost with the countries that boycotted him.

So Qatar held, it's more of a victory.

Will Qatar change its position or continue to have an attitude that irritates its neighbors?

Perhaps Qatar will put a little "water in its wine" but I do not believe it will go further, which means that this crisis will not be completely resolved.

What was irritating Arabia will continue one way or another.

So, we should not expect a great reconciliation where tomorrow everyone will kiss.

We are in a conflict which, for three and a half years, has produced extremely deep wounds on both sides.

It's been three and a half years that we insult violently between Saudis and Qataris, not only between leaders but also between populations.

If you go to Twitter, you have the Qatari and Saudi Arabian accounts spending their days spitting in each other's faces.

So it's not just a story of bickering between leaders, it's something that has taken on a much larger scale.

So in my opinion, in a context where Qatar is unlikely to change its line, it would be a cold peace at best, a cold reconciliation, which is to be expected.

I don't believe the two states are going to be best friends in the world in a matter of months.

The Emirates seem to be at the origin of the break with Qatar.

How far can reconciliation go and can their two visions coexist within the Gulf Cooperation Council?

This boycott is the result of an unprecedented rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2015, we saw the two countries forge a sort of extremely tight security pact.

In 2017, it was the Emirates that dragged Arabia into the boycott of Qatar.

If it hadn't been for the UAE's initiative, the Saudis wouldn't have gone.

What has happened for two years is that this relationship between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is loosening a bit.

We are starting to see tensions appear.

We saw them in Yemen where the Emirati retreated while the Saudis stayed and they wanted the Emirati to stay.

We have seen tensions on other issues and therefore today there is a crisis between Arabia and the Emirates, a crisis which does not speak its name.

We pretend that everyone gets along well.

But it is obvious that by doing this, the Saudis are kind of peaking towards the Emirates.

So the latter will have to reposition themselves effectively.

Are they going to follow Arabia and decide that we must reconcile?

It remains open but we must see that behind all this, there is a crisis between Arabia and the Emirates and it is the outcome of this crisis that will determine the position of a kind of peak towards the Emirates.

There is also the role of the United States in this reconciliation.

Is it a farewell gift from the Trump administration who wanted this reconciliation so badly or a welcome gift to the Biden administration or both?

I think it's a bit of both.

The Saudis are realizing that they have to give in on something.

And that was the file on which it was least costly for them to give in.

The Yemeni question is much more important to them because Yemen is on their southern border, there is the Houthi movement which has close relations with Iran and that for the Saudis is an existential problem.

So even as they are criticized on Yemen, the Saudis do not want to give in on this subject.

Finally, Qatar was an issue on which they could give in without costing them much, because it was more an Emirati affair than a Saudi affair.

So for me, it's giving the Biden administration some kind of goodwill, showing that they can give in to something.

They know that Biden comes to power with a much more hostile agenda towards them than the Trump administration, in the statements in any case, we will see what it will be in fact.

And then, it may also be a way of thanking Trump, who has nevertheless been a staunch ally for four years.

The Saudis are indeed killing two birds with one stone.


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