FT: Gulf states forge deal to end spat over Doha backing for Brotherhood

By Simeon Kerr in Dubai

The Gulf states have forged an initial agreement aimed at ending a regional spat over Qatar’s support for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood group.

But analysts say tensions could persist, as the underlying divisions behind one of the worst diplomatic crises in the Gulf Co-operation Council’s 33-year history remain unresolved.

Foreign ministers of the GCC late on Thursday agreed a mechanism to guarantee a collective framework “to ensure that policies of any of the GCC countries do not affect the interests, security and stability of the member states or undermine their sovereignty”.

Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich regional superpower, has led the pressure against Qatar, calling on the tiny state to end its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and curb the reporting of its satellite news channel Al Jazeera.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the leading regional backers of the interim military regime in Egypt, which ousted the Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in a coup last year.

The dispute over the Brotherhood came to a head at a stormy GCC meeting in March, after which Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors to Qatar.

In a statement following Thursday’s meeting, the GCC thanked Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, for his role in achieving “the current positive results”. But UAE officials said diplomatic relations would not yet be restored.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi would maintain a “wait and see” attitude as to whether Doha changes course, they added.

A Qatari official, meanwhile, said Thursday’s agreement contained a general set of principles outlining non-interference in other Gulf states’ affairs. “There is nothing new in this,” the official said. “It is the same as we were going to sign before the ambassadors were withdrawn.”

Analysts agree that the outcome of this diplomatic compromise, while presented as a breakthrough, may only become apparent over the coming months.

“The GCC is buying time, taking the tension out of the situation by papering over the cracks,” says Andrew Hammond, a policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are still pushing for concrete action from Qatar against Brotherhood elements in Doha, including spiritual leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Riyadh has banned the Muslim Brotherhood while Abu Dhabi has cracked down on a domestic Islamist group that it alleges to be a branch of the organisation.

Doha has defended Al Jazeera’s editorial independence and says it does not officially back the Brotherhood, but nor will it distance itself from the pan-Arab Islamist group that has played a leading role in the regional revolts of the past few years.

Nonetheless, Mr Hammond argues that Qatar’s new emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani – who wants to appear tuned into the will of his people – may quietly follow through on some of its neighbours’ demands.

“The Qataris are going to take some steps to ease the situation by trying to get rid of some of the Egyptian Brotherhood members in Doha,” he says. “That’s less because of outside pressure, but to appease domestic concerns.”

 

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