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Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Analysts question Bahrain’s ‘especially strange’ push for talks with Qatar over shared waters


Reports stating that Bahrain is open for negotiations come as a surprise to many considering Manama’s silence amid ongoing efforts to end the GCC dispute.

Bahrain is reportedly pushing for negotiations with Qatar to share territorial waters, Kuwaiti media reported on Monday, just weeks after fishermen from the neighbouring Gulf state were found breaching Doha’s territory.

Bahrain “stressed the importance of direct bilateral negotiations” with Qatar in order to reach an agreement that would allow fishermen from both countries to access their territorial waters “in a way that would benefit the citizens of the two countries and enhance joint Gulf cooperation”, Kuwaiti daily Al Rai reported.

The potential move was discussed in a Bahraini Cabinet meeting headed by the Crown Prince and Prime Minister Prince Salman bin Hamad, where officials emphasised the need to “restore” decades-old conditions for the maritime borders, the report added.

November and December saw two territorial breaches by Bahraini fishermen in Qatar’s waters. This came as Gulf countries announced plans to work out their differences to achieve a potential breakthrough in the crisis. 

But in response to the arrest of the fishermen by Qatari coastguards, Bahrain accused Doha of violating international and GCC policies.

Several experts perceived the violations as Bahrain’s attempts to stall negotiations that could potentially resolve the three-year-long Gulf dispute.

“The incident was quite peculiar in many respects: one, that it was used to inflame the people of Bahrain against Qatar in a very strange way,” Dr. Majed Al-Ansari, Assistant Professor of Political Sociology at Qatar University, told Doha News.

Read also: Bahrain’s Parliament to take action against Qatar over fishing boat incident

Dr. Al-Ansari added that Manama’s move is “especially strange” considering the limitations it has imposed on Qataris who cannot arrive in Bahrain without special approval. Manama has itself implemented an illegal land, air and sea blockade on Qatar.

‘Undermining reconciliation efforts’

Meanwhile, recent reports also claim the United Arab Emirates – which has also imposed an illegal blockade on Qatar, and has been perceived to be unwilling to resolve the crisis – has been using Bahrain discretely as a tool to hinder regional progress in achieving a resolution.

In a recent tweet on Tuesday, the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash accused Qatari media platforms of “undermining” reconciliation efforts, describing it as a “strange phenomenon that is difficult to explain”. He fell short of identifying or clarifying which outlets he was referring to.

Over the past few weeks, the UAE and Egypt both delayed their announcement to welcome Kuwait’s latest efforts in resolving the crisis, even despite Saudi Arabia’s apparent willingness to welcome negotiations. Saudi Arabia initially led the blockade in June 2017.

Bahrain has yet to make a statement.

“It seems like there is a lot of frustration in the blockading countries’ camp and there is very little agreement on how to approach this rapprochement with Qatar. It is either that Bahrain is a scapegoat for ending the talks from the Saudi side, or that the Bahrainis would like to have their own negotiations with Qatar as they have not been included with the Saudi side,” said Dr. Al-Ansari.

Read also: Saudi Arabia pushing for Gulf breakthrough ahead of GCC Summit

While Bahrain’s position is yet to be deciphered, answers may finally be revealed at the 41st GCC Summit on January 5th, which has been moved from Manama to Riyadh since developments began. 

“Since we started getting news about the talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar reaching some sort of a preliminary resolution, it was very clear that the Bahrainis and Emiratis were not keen to end the crisis. We have seen the delay in their announcements of supporting the Kuwaiti efforts and we’ve seen no deescalation in the media from their side,” said Dr. Al-Ansari.

Earlier this month, an announcement by Kuwait stated that a deal had been reached. This came after Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani confirmed earlier reports on potential movements to resolve the dispute.

“We believe the end of the crisis is important for the security of the region and for the sake of our people. This crisis needs to end based on mutual respect and the rights of all people of the Gulf,” Qatar’s FM said at the time.

Kuwait has been one of the key mediators throughout the crisis, even after the passing of former ruler, Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah this year.

The Gulf crisis was triggered in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar, falsely accusing it supporting terrorism. Qatar has consistently and vehemently denied the allegations.

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