By MOHAMMED FAHAD AL-HARTHI
On Sunday in Riyadh, leaders of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) made a critical pact promising a new era of regional and global political and economic stability.
The meeting was the initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. Chairing the gathering, he used his immense stature as the most respected senior statesman in the region, and a global icon in terms of seeking dialogue among nations and various faiths, to skillfully hammer out a consensus agreement. This was no small task, coming as it did in the face of seemingly insurmountable differences and unprecedented tension in the GCC over the past year.
It was a make-or-break summit that would have had far-reaching consequences if it had failed, considering the many challenges in the region. It ended the eight-month rift with Qatar and now the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will return to Doha. In addition, the GCC summit next month in that city is assured.
The GCC leaders on Nov. 16 issued a carefully worded statement that they came to an agreement complementing the original Riyadh pact of April 17 this year. This was a commitment by all member states not to undermine the “interests, security and stability” of each other.
The April meeting had followed Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain recalling their ambassadors from Qatar in March, having accused it of meddling in their internal affairs. The three leading Gulf states had then said that Qatar had failed to abide by a November 2013 agreement on non-interference.
Sunday’s agreement stressed that the countries would not support media organizations hostile to GCC interests, or movements that pose a security and political threat to the region. The pact also emphasized that member-nations must redouble their efforts to ensure the safety and stability of the region.
The people of the Gulf are politically astute and know that a mistake at this juncture would affect everyone’s future. They know that continued disunity can provide ample space for hostile opportunists to undermine the region’s prospects for growth.
There is no doubt that the international community is acutely aware of the Gulf region’s strategic and economic importance. A recent article in the Daily Telegraph’s business section has argued that a “fracture” in the GCC threatens the world’s oil supply, a risk exceeding that of the danger posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
It is a recognition that the GCC remains the most influential institution in the Arab political world, even more so now that there is a lack of unity among other Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa.
The Gulf states are facing huge internal and external challenges that provide further support for the appeal by Saudi Arabia to transform the GCC into a European Union-style body, with a joint security apparatus, a common market and monetary union. The completion of planned joint electricity and rail projects would give fruition to this vision and ensure greater investment between the six nations.
It is clear now that time is not in favor of the people of the Gulf. The Riyadh summit is only the beginning of a hard road ahead, but the history of the GCC shows it is up to the task.–KT