Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Qatar has returned to the country, after GCC states reached an agreement earlier this week to end an eight-month-long dispute, the embassy has confirmed to Doha News.
Arriving at Hamad International Airport yesterday, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Ayfan said that he felt at home and that his return marked the beginning of a new chapter in intra-GCC relations, The Peninsula reports.
Al Ayfan added that he hoped ambassadors from the UAE and Bahrain would also soon return to Qatar to show unity and to “save (the Gulf) from any internal or external threats.”
The envoy’s return is one of a number of signs in recent days that Qatar and its neighbors are trying to rebuild their relationships, which have been strained since March.
At that time, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE announced they were jointly withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha.
They said Qatar had violated an agreement among GCC members not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
This was widely interpreted to be a reference to Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia and the UAE view as a threat to their own authority and have banned as a terrorist organization.
After a few stalled attempts at ending the dispute, the states announced on Sunday evening that they had resolved their differences and had signed the Riyadh Complementary Arrangement, pledging “more unity of the GCC member states, their interests and future of their peoples.”
Handball back on
In a further display of the renewed partnership between the states, the UAE and Bahrain have announced that they “wish to cancel their withdrawal” from the 2015 Men’s World Handball Championships, which are due to be held in Doha in January.
Making a statement to the International Handball Federation yesterday, the two countries’ national federations “expressed their preparedness and wish to participate at this flagship event.”
This marks an about-turn, following the nations’ abrupt decision to pull out of participating in the event earlier this month. While no reason was officially given for their withdrawal from the tournament, many speculated it was a boycott related to the diplomatic disputes.
Qatar appears to have taken a number of steps to help smooth over relations with its Gulf neighbors in recent months, including asking seven senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood to leave the country.
It has also signed up to a GCC agreement by passing a new cybercrime law that criminalizes online insults of the region’s royal families.
Meanwhile, another source of tension – Qatar’s attempts to naturalize Sunni Bahraini citizens – also appears to have been resolved.
Bahrain’s state news agency BNA quotes its Interior Minister, Lt.-Gen. Shaikh Rashid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, as saying yesterday:
“Qatar has stopped the naturalization process, stressing organisational procedures which stipulate mutual respect of the laws of both countries to serve the general interests and bonding of GCC countries.”
Earlier this summer, Bahrain had accused Qatar of harming its national security by encouraging specific Bahraini families, who had long-standing ties with Doha and were Sunni, to take Qatari citizenship.
Sunni-ruled Bahrain has a majority Shia majority population, and the country has faced years of unrest as Shias have protested for more rights. The country fears a shift in its demographic make-up could lead to further instability.