More than a month after signing an agreement to diffuse diplomatic tensions, ambassadors from Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have yet to return to their posts in Doha.
When exactly that will happen has been put in doubt, after Bahrain’s state news agency reported yesterday that the country’s ambassador would not be resuming his duties in Doha anytime soon:
“Minister of Foreign Affairs, Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, today affirmed that Bahrain’s Ambassador to Qatar will not return to resume his duties in Doha at the present time, adding that the GCC committees are still working on overcoming differences.”
When contacted by Doha News on Monday, a spokesperson at the Saudi Arabian embassy here said she had no news on when her country’s ambassador may return. And as of last week, the UAE’s diplomatic mission in Doha was still without an ambassador.
That envoy left in December on unrelated reasons, and has not yet been replaced.
The latest remarks from Bahrain suggest that last month’s proclamation by Qatar’s foreign minister that “the dispute is over” may have been premature.
In March, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced that they were jointly withdrawing their top diplomats from Doha, saying Qatar allegedly failed to abide by a Gulf-wide security pact that pledged non-interference in each other’s internal affairs.
The specific trigger for the symbolic display of disapproval remains unclear.
Many argue it relates to differences over Egypt, where Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted president Mohamed Mursi have put it offside with the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both of whom support the current regime.
Some also suggest that Qatar’s GCC neighbors have become exasperated with Doha-based Al Jazeera.
Some critics allege that the network’s Arabic channel especially has a pro-Muslim Brotherhood bias in its editorial coverage. The joint GCC security pact prohibits members from “support(ing) … hostile media” as part of a promise not to interfere in the internal affairs in other Gulf nations.
Slightly more than a month after the three Gulf countries announced they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council said they had reached an agreement to ensure the interests, security and stability of each nation.
No details were released on how this would be achieved, leading to rumors that Qatar had agreed to expel some Muslim Brotherhood members, force Al Jazeera to tone down its coverage and deport Al Qaradawi – a suggestion the Islamic scholar called “totally baseless.”
Despite the public show of unity, some analysts were skeptical that the underlying tensions had been resolved.
Speaking to Doha News last month, Michael Stephens – the deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, a British think tank – said:
“It does initially seem that the concessions made by Qatar to placate the Saudis and Emiratis are fairly cosmetic. As such I don’t see how the structural issues that caused the rift in the first place have been completely healed.”
This isn’t the first time Qatar has run afoul of its larger neighbors. In the mid-2000s, Qatar went several years without a permanent ambassador from KSA in Doha.
Nevertheless, Qatar’s former prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, recently said the country places a high priority on maintaining good relations with its GCC allies, especially Saudi Arabia. In a media interview earlier this month, he said:
“I always tell them (KSA) they are the main bone in our body.”