Saudi Arabia hosted the 39th summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on December 9, 2018. Qatar sent its state minister to represent the country. Since the announcement of Qatar’s blockade by the three member countries of the GCC (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates), two summits have been held in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia respectively. This is the second time when the member states have missed the opportunity to initiate a rigorous dialogue under the GCC platform and end the diplomatic crisis. However, the War in Yemen, the blockade of Qatar, and Jamal Kashoggi’s murder overshadowed true issues of the region.

This is not the first time that the member states of the GCC have locked into a dispute. In 1986, a border dispute erupted between Bahrain and Qatar, which was ultimately resolved in International Court of Justice in 2001. At that time, the GCC organisation had prevented escalation between the two countries through Commission for the Settlements of Disputes. Other member countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had also played their constructive role during this border dispute. However, the current crisis is more serious than the previous one as it has made two-third member countries as parties of the conflict. Resultantly, it is very difficult for the GCC to focus on founding objectives of the organisation, i.e., regional connectivity and collective security.

Currently, the relevance of the organisation is gradually fading due to regional political developments. The organisation’s Supreme Council has mandate of dispute settlement among the member states. But it failed to address the issue due to strong Saudi block within the GCC organisation. It seems that aspirations such as single currency of member states, NATO style defence force and regional connectivity through railway have bleak future amid strong rifts between the two-third member states of the GCC. Now, holding the summit itself has been portrayed as an achievement by Saudi Arabia, which demonstrates the level of lack of confidence in the future of the GCC.

The GCC has been bifurcated into three groups since June 2017. Qatar and Oman are on the one hand, while Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain on the other hand have competing interests and different threat perceptions. Kuwait is on the fence trying to mediate between the aforementioned two competing blocks. Initially, Iran was perceived as an existential threat to Arab countries. In this regard, there is a lack of unified thinking among the member states of the GCC. For some, Iran is still an existential threat, while for others the hegemonic behaviour of Saudi Arabia itself poses a threat to their national security.

The problem with the GCC and other organisations such as of the region is that Saudi Arabia wants to dominate them according to its own interests. Resultantly, these organisations either became mouthpiece of Saudi Arabia or fail to maintain their relevance in the regional security architecture. Arab League, Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and GCC are glaring examples of it.

In fact, the recent call of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani for a dialogue to end the crisis stands as a first positive indicator. Second, the Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz deliberately avoided mentioning Qatar’s blockade in his speech during the summit, which might melt ice between the two nations. Third, the small Arab countries at the Eastern shores of Arabian Peninsula would still prefer Saudi Arabia on Iran as a hegemon due to various historical, political and ethnic reasons. Owing to these three reasons, Qatar has not withdrawn its membership from the GCC. Rather, it is still striving for a political dialogue and end of this diplomatic crisis.

Though, currently the member states of the GCC do not share the same interests and threat perceptions, yet no member country wants to end this organisation because it has strong potential to serve member states, if internal rifts are set aside. Despite its inefficiency, the GCC is one of the most important organisations of the Middle East. Its fragmentation means the fragmentation of Arab world, which would lead to much more destabilised Middle East.


The writer is PhD candidate at NUST

and Researcher at IPRI.