20 December 2002 –
GCC: Lives to fight another day
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summits are usually a well orchestrated show of niceties, with all the leg work carried out by the Foreign ministers of the six member nations a day or two before the arrival of the five heads of states to the hosting capital. An army of Arab journalists and a handful of western reporters are usually given a draft of the final communiqué well in advance, affording them the opportunity to enjoy the lavish Arab hospitality on offer. However, the 23d GCC summit in
The meeting came at a crucial time, as the Gulf faced mounting challenges. Despite anticipated American war with Iraq, regarded as imminent at the time of the summit, only two heads of states attended: the host Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Al-Thani and Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said. On the eve of the summiteven the six Foreign Ministerscut short their meeting in the Qatari capital, leading to speculationsthatthe group was losing its cohesion as a political and joint security umbrellafor the oil rich Arab States of the Gulf.
the Council, made up of
Political differences, especially pace of democratisation and reform among the smaller states,patterns of economic activities and foreign trade present a major hurdle to achieve a European Common Market style grouping that once GCC first Secretary Dr Abdallah Bisharah so keenly advocated back in the 1980s.
After 23 years of claims of success as ‘ rapidly moving towardsthe first Arab Common Market,’ it seemed a single issue – the question of forming an alliance with the United States in dealing with threats from the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein- threatened the political entente among GCC members as it emerged in Doha in December.
Also cons piquesby their absence were the dozens Saudi Journalists, who normally flood events of this nature in a region they consider as Saudi Arabia’s unchallenged sphere of influence. In fact, leading up to and during the summit, Saudi media kept the coverage to a minimum on the inside pages.
The Saudi owned London based daily Al-Hayat, quoting ‘top diplomatic sources’ , was the first to run a front page report early in December that the Kingdom would send a low level delegation. The story was filed by a Jeddah based Lebanese reporter who, as Arab diplomats pointed out, would not have considered making such revelations without some sort of official nod. Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh HamadBinJabr Al-Thani, made a light hearted, but well aimed joke at the reporter, about spinning his own web, during a press conference that followed the lastsession of the summit.
tight-lipped Saudi Arabian officials, leaked to the media their displeasure with
both the timing and the location of the summit. Coming at the highest of
the Iraqi crisis, the Saudis and other Arabs in the Gulf have declared
that they were against any military action in
between the oil rich desert Kingdom and the
Saudis are still are irritated by Qatar, one of the smaller nations of the Gulf that took giant steps towards economic and political reform and openness, as well as taking small but positive steps towards peace like accepting an Israeli trade mission in Doha.
In recent months a bunch of Palestinianand Arab nationalists have over stepped the mark – even by western free speech standard – in their attacks on Saudi Arabia and its current as well as historic leaders.
al-Jazeera is independent, it is supported
On the eve of the summit Qatari press reported that five billion dollars where offered to Shut down or tame al-Jazeera, but no details where coming out on who made the offer.
Emir of Qtar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, in 2001 turned down requests by President George Bush diplomatic envoys to muzzle al-Jazeera, reminding hisguests of first amendment of the American constitution.‘ The Emir genuinely believe in free speech and see freeing the media from the straight jackets of Arab governments as a key to developing the Arab mind,’ a top western diplomat said. He was the first Arab ruler to abolish the ministry of information, which plays a censorship role in all Arabic speaking nations without exception.
Saudis also suspect
nationalists and left wing columnists and commentators have used pages
on Saudi controlled newspapers to criticise
However, Qataris say that American basis are every where in the Gulf and reject being singled out for criticism. ‘It is only because Qatar’s declared policy is no different from its actual policy on the ground,’ said a senior Qatari official adding thatwhen it comes to policy on Iraq and American basis, Qatar’s position is no different from any other Arab Gulf state, I thus find it difficult to comprehend criticism from other states.’
and Arab diplomats in
Arab journalists’ questionsduring
a press conference by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jabr,
were unusually hostile. They accused
his nation’s record in giving material and financial aid to the Palestinians,
Mr Bin Jabr said his
government, in line withglasnost,doesn’t
keep its foreign and military agreements secrete from the people. ‘
contrary to old Arab wisdom’ said Mr Bin Jabr
, ‘ we don’t followthe saying : let
secrecy be your best ally in your missions.’He
repeated advice to
After two days of heated debates and squabbling behind closed doors, the summiteers issued a communiqué that surprised diplomats and provoked the hostile line of questions from Arab journalists.
the five other Gulf nationslined
Kuwaitis saw the speech as
aggressive and another threat as he didn’t recognise
in Doha agreed that Qatar‘sEmir Sheikh
Hamad Bin Jassim, as a host of thesummit
and his Foreign minister Mr Bin Jabr have
achieved a great success against mounting odds. The salvaging the summit
by focusing on economic issues like Custom Union with a 5% single tariff
that started last t month ( jan 03). Although
the figure seems to be a compromise between 7.5% demanded by theSaudis
and 3.5 % which
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud has been
consulting with Arab partners as well as Americans and British to put a
new initiative to an Arab summit for a proposal to the Iraqis to persuade
Saddam Hussein to resign to spare
is remain to be seen whether
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