Does Qatar seek to exclude Bahrain from Gulf reconciliation?

Does Qatar seek to exclude Bahrain from Gulf reconciliation?
Does Qatar seek to exclude Bahrain from Gulf reconciliation?

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - In view of the ambiguity of Doha’s position, Manama may not wait much longer and could in fact react by announcing the end of any commitment to reconciliation.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani holding a virtual meeting with top Gulf Arab officials in the capital Manama, December 27, 2020. (AFP)

MANAMA - Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid al-Zayani did not hide his country's disappointment with Qatar's move to obstruct the decisions made at the Al-Ula summit for reconciliation between the two countries.

Observers of Gulf affairs say his statements seem aimed  at showing that Manama does not bear any responsibility for the obstructionist efforts of Doha, which harbours plans to exclude Bahrain from the reconciliation process.

The Bahraini foreign minister said in a parliamentary session Thursday that Qatari authorities have not expressed any intent to resolve the outstanding issues with his country and have shown no interest in directly negotiating such files since the end of the summit.

He revealed that his ministry sent a written letter to Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani calling on Doha to dispatch an official delegation to start talks on pending issues between the two sides, but has not received a reply from Qatar.

He added that his country "is looking forward to a new process in relations with Qatar that takes into account the rights and interests of each country, through clear mechanisms to ensure more balanced relations."

His criticism contrasted with the optimistic assessment of Saudi Arabia's relationship with Qatar expressed by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who told the -based Al Arabiya TV on Thursday that the kingdom will reopen its embassy in Doha "within days."

Qatar has recently opted to pursue policies based on raising contentious issues with Bahrain in a way that completely contradicts the reconciliation process announced after the mediation drive undertaken by Kuwait, the United States and Oman, with a green light from Saudi Arabia.

After raising the issue of Bahraini fishermen accused of crossing into Qatari territorial waters, Doha resorted to the United Nations and the UN Security Council and filed a  complaint against Manama accusing Bahraini fighter planes of violating Qatar's airspace.

Observers expected Doha to discuss the contentious issue on the bilateral or Gulf levels, especially given that the Qataris had shown enthusiasm about reconciliation and a return to the Gulf fold. But that kind of bilateral or regional discussion did not happen, raising questions about Qatar's real intentions.

The Qatari moves have raised doubts about Doha's understanding of reconciliation with all the boycotting capitals, and led to questions over whether Doha wants to reach a form of reconciliation that is limited to Riyadh. Qatar was previously accused of seeking to play on differences between countries of the Arab quartet, which had led the boycott movement against it.

Observers of Gulf affairs believe that Qatar plans to target Manama and exclude it from reconciliation. They see Doha as sending a negative message according to which Qatar has negotiated and reached a de-escalation agreement with Riyadh but is not concerned with Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is acting and negotiating in agreement with the other three quartet partners.

Analysts say Manama is most provoked by Qatar's excessive talk about a reconciliation process that includes Iran, as Bahrain considers Tehran to be intent on jeopardising Bahrain's security, and that Manama's political position will not change regardless of the initiatives taken by Gulf countries to achieve acceptable understandings.

The absence of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa from the Al-Ula summit showed the limits of Bahrain’s optimism towards the reconciliation process with Qatar, as Manama does not believe Doha is serious about resolving all of Bahrain's concerns.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt agreed during the Al-Ula summit to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties that they had severed with Qatar in 2017 over accusations Doha supported Islamic extremism and held close ties with Iran.

If the Bahraini foreign minister was keen on displaying a calm and sober demeanor in calling on the Qataris to carry out their pledges within the reconciliation process, observers believe that in view of the ambiguity of Doha’s position, Manama may not wait much longer, and could in fact react by announcing the end of any commitment to reconciliation, especially as it considers itself the most affected by the repercussions of the Qatari agenda in the region since the 2011 protests.

In 2017, Bahraini judicial investigations led to charges being levelled at leaders of "the Bahraini opposition" who were accused of “communicating” with Doha during the protests in order to “carry out hostile acts inside the Kingdom of Bahrain, harm its military, political, economic and national interests, and undermine its prestige and stature abroad.”

Since 2011, the relationship between the two countries has remained tense, especially after Bahrain accused Qatar of urging Bahraini citizens to give up their nationality in exchange for Qatari citizenship. This created a climate that made Manama most supportive of the boycott option at the time.

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