Bahraini Silence on Reconciliation With Qatar Signals Distrust
Qatar signed on to the agreement in order to advance its preparations for the 2022 World Cup in Doha, observers charge
At the end of the 41st Gulf Cooperation Council summit held Tuesday in the Saudi Arabian city of AlUla, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan announced that “the page of the disagreement with Qatar is completely closed with regard to the four countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Emirates and Egypt.” However, it appears that Bahrain might feel differently.
Bahrain, as of Tuesday evening, has not officially commented on the statement issued by the Saudi foreign minister, despite the fact that Bahraini Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa signed the final statement of the summit, which included ending the dispute with Qatar.
The king of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, did not attend the meeting, the first time that he has missed a Gulf summit in Saudi Arabia. But experts confirmed that it was due to a matter of protocol.
Also, unusually, Bahrain’s official media mostly ignored the summit, reporting only on Prince Salman bin Hamad’s arrival in AlUla, and the main summit session. It did not allocate, as is usually the case, hours of air time to talk about the importance of the Gulf summit and united Gulf relations, and even broadcast news reports about Qatar’s targeting of Bahraini fishermen in the country’s territorial waters, which has been a subject of tension between the two countries.
The Bahraini prime minister signed the AlUla statement, and the final statement of the summit, which included the restoration of relations with Qatar, but in his official statement on the occasion of the summit, he did not talk about reconciliation, speaking instead about “continuing to work on achieving the aspirations and hopes of the citizens of the GCC countries for a more prosperous and advanced present and future,” and that the AlUla summit be “the start of the return of Gulf cohesion, while ensuring that the priority is to achieve security, stability and prosperity of our countries in the interest of the citizens of the GCC countries, and that work is done to strengthen the Gulf dialogue, with everyone’s keenness.”
He also praised “the beginning of a bright page in fraternal relations, the strengthening of the march of the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the strengthening of solidarity.”
Qatar talks about reconciliation, and at the same time it arrests Bahraini sailors who work in the Bahraini territorial waters. This is a major violation of international and Gulf norms and contradicts what it wants from reconciliation
Salman Nasser, the head of an independent jurists’ group in Bahrain and a human rights activist, told The Media Line that “Bahrain has always been unanimous in the Gulf Cooperation Council states regarding its decisions, but at the same time it believes that there are commitments that Qatar should fulfill, and Doha must not overrun the Bahraini maritime borders.”
He added: “Qatar talks about reconciliation, and at the same time it arrests Bahraini sailors who work in the Bahraini territorial waters. This is a major violation of international and Gulf norms and contradicts what it wants from reconciliation.”
Bahrain will continue to work within the GCC system, Nasser said, because it believes that it “is important and must remain strong to face regional and international challenges.”
There are still some uncertainties, he said.
“We do not know what Qatar’s position will be on the Iranian regime, which is considered an ally of Doha, and Tehran still supports militias and extremists in the Middle East – in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. These groups have been internationally classified as terrorist groups, and so we must see what Doha’s position is on the Iranian regime,” he said.
He added that the fact that Bahrain’s king did not attend the summit was due to protocol, and must have been agreed to by Saudi Arabia since the Saudi crown prince presided over the summit.
“We will see what Qatar will do during the coming period, and then Bahrain will decide what are the next steps for its reconciliation. Our experience with the regime in Qatar is not encouraging, as it violated the 2013 agreements and the Riyadh agreement and, frankly, we do not see that it will comply this time either,” Nasser said.
One the reasons for Qatar’s acceptance of reconciliation, he said, is to save the World Cup set for Doha in 2022. Qatar “signed the statement and announced its acceptance of reconciliation only to make the World Cup succeed, and after 2022 Doha will return to its previous actions,” he said.
We respect the Qatari people because we are one family, and we have a kinship with them, but we don’t trust the Qatari regime
Jamal Bou Hassan, a politician and former Bahraini lawmaker, told The Media Line that “Bahrain is committed to what Saudi Arabia decides, and it certainly will not deviate from the Gulf and Arab consensus. There was Kuwaiti and American mediation to resolve the dispute with Qatar, and it seems that it succeeded.”
He said that the vision of reconciliation with Qatar by Bahrain will soon become more clear.
“We in Bahrain have historical problems with Qatar, and while we are negotiating with the Qataris, they attack on their side the coast guard and Bahraini fishermen, which proves that Doha is not serious about reconciliation,” he said.
Bou Hassan added: “Qatar’s last-minute negative attitudes toward Bahrain, and the statements of its officials, are provocative toward the Kingdom. They have not overlooked the historical dispute. As for us in Bahrain, we respect the Qatari people because we are one family, and we have a kinship with them, but we don’t trust the Qatari regime.”
“Qatar has been intransigent over the past three and a half years, and has now accepted a change that came only for the sake of the World Cup. It is trying to get closer to Saudi Arabia in order to reopen the skies for its planes, and the land borders so that the 2022 World Cup facilities projects do not stop, but with Bahrain it is not completely showing goodwill,” he concluded.