1039 GMT January 21, 2018
Seismic uproar first surfaced early last month, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain — all PGCC members — abruptly cut their diplomatic ties to Qatar, another member of the bloc, and blocked their transit routes with the country, presstv.ir reported.
They accused Qatar of sponsoring terrorism and later issued a list of 13 demands they said Doha had to meet in order for ties to be normalized. The Qatari government denied the accusation and rejected the demands.
On Monday, in a speech at Chatham House in London, Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash gave the strongest signal yet that the PGCC might act to expel Qatar.
“You cannot be part of a regional organization dedicated to strengthening mutual security and furthering mutual interests, and at the same time undermine that security and harm those interests,” Gargash said, referring to the PGCC and addressing Qatar.
Will the PGCC survive?
Observers say the dispute with Qatar has less to do with the terrorism sponsorship claims and more to do with the fact that Doha follows a foreign policy that is more independent of Saudi Arabia. That view is specially strengthened given the fact that Saudi Arabia itself stands accused of supporting terrorism.
Speculation already existed that the PGCC might eject Qatar. But as the dispute escalates into a battle between hegemony and sovereign independence, there is also a likelihood that the PGCC would cease to exist at all.
Oman and Kuwait, the only two other PGCC members beside Qatar, have refused to take the tough line of cutting ties with Doha, a policy believed to have been largely directed by Saudi Arabia.
Muscat and Kuwait City have been trying to work out a negotiated solution and have even been sending foodstuffs to Qatar to mitigate the impacts of the blockade imposed by the three other members.
In his Monday speech, Gargash attempted to downplay such speculation.
“Understandably, many of our friends in Europe and beyond are concerned about this crisis,” he said. “They see the Persian Gulf as a haven of stability in an unstable Middle East, and as an important and functioning common market… But as we know from meetings with American and European officials, they are also aware of Qatar’s duplicity.”
The remarks about Qatari “duplicity” made by the Emirati minister came shortly after a report by The Washington Post said what apparently sparked the dispute with Qatar — a report posted on the website of Qatari state news agency that Doha said was the result of a hack — had in fact been online sabotage work arranged by UAE officials.
“The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May,” the Post said, citing US intelligence officials.
The report said that information collected by US intelligence agencies “confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan [to arrange a hack] and its implementation.”
Awkward timing has been a prominent feature of the dispute involving the Arab countries. The feud began just days after Saudi Arabia set up an extravagant show of Arab “unity” against Iran in Riyadh, where Qatar and other countries signed off on a final communique stressing a unified stance against Tehran.
The report posted on the Qatari state news agency attributed a remark to Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani that Iran was an Islamic power and must not be opposed by the regional Arab countries.