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Gulf Arab states strike new deal to heal rifts – Crisis ‘between brothers’ finally over?

GCC-logoRIYADH: The Western-allied Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council said the bloc has agreed on the mechanisms to implement a security pact, marking a possible first step toward bridging deep rifts among its six energy-rich states. Qatar’s official news agency confirmed that Doha’s Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed Al Attiyah took part in the GCC Foreign Ministers meeting held in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh. The GCC statement was released just before midnight after the meeting concluded.

It marked the foreign minister’s first visit to Saudi Arabia since the kingdom, along with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, withdrew their ambassadors from Qatar in an unprecedented public protest largely believed to be spurned by Doha’s support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group in the region. Thursday’s statement said the GCC agreed on a “collective framework” in which the policies  of the bloc’s member states “would not affect the interests, security and stability of its members and  would tamper with the sovereignty of any of its members.”

However, the statement by the GCC did not say whether ambassadors would be reinstated. The ambassadors were officially withdrawn early March after the three Gulf nations said Qatar failed to uphold its end of a security agreement to stop interfering in other nations’ politics and supporting organizations that threaten the Gulf’s stability. They said the move was made to protect their security.

Kuwait, which has Islamists in parliament, and Oman were the only countries in the council not to join in the diplomatic protest. Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi was quoted just before Thursday’s announcement in the pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat declaring that the crisis “between brothers” had ended and was “a thing of the past.” The GCC statement did not offer any details about what the countries agreed on. Analysts do not expect Qatar’s policies will dramatically swing closer to that of Saudi Arabia’s, which recently declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization not long after Cairo’s government did the same.

Qatar gave billions of dollars in aid to the Brotherhood-backed government of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi before he was ousted by the army last year. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait trumped that support with billions of dollars to Egypt’s new military-backed government as it cracked down on the Brotherhood and its supporters. Additionally, the Qatar-based and funded Al Jazeera Arabic news channel has come under attack in Egypt, and is not believed to be viewed favorably by Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s leaders.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia have little tolerance for Brotherhood-linked activity and perceive Islamist groups as a threat to their political systems. Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute, said in an analysis that “Qatar is likely unwilling to eat humble pie.” “Unlike (Saudi) King Abdullah and certain other Gulf leaders, Doha seems to view its own quasi-monarchal political system as above any potential Brotherhood threats,” he wrote, adding that Qatar has also been in competition with Saudi Arabia for influence among Syria’s opposition seeking to oust President Bashar Assad, “though it may be easing up on that posture.”

A sticking point for the UAE’s relationship with Qatar had been Egyptian-born cleric Youssef Al-Qaradawi’s fiery sermons in Doha, in which he criticized Gulf countries for their support of Egypt’s interim government. The cleric has close ties with Brotherhood and would deliver his speeches live on Qatar state television. He has not appeared on the pulpit since ambassadors were withdrawn._ AP