June 6, 2019 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1459

Despite Its Participation In The Arab And Muslim Summits In Mecca – Qatar Remains In The Pro-Iranian Camp

June 6, 2019 | By B. Chernitsky*
Qatar, Saudi Arabia, The Gulf | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1459


In the last days of May 2019, three regional summits were held in Mecca. Two of them, emergency summits of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and of the Arab League, were convened by Saudi Arabia to present a united Gulf front vis-à-vis Iran in response to recent incidents: the attack on the Saudi oil facilities by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels[1]and the Fujairah attack on the oil tankers, two of which were Saudi. A third summit, which had been scheduled in advance, was held one day later (May 31) under the aegis of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The participation of Qatari Prime Minister 'Abdallah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Aal Thani in all three summits sparked speculations about a possible thaw in the tense relations between Qatar and the countries that have been boycotting it in the last two years due to its close connections with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, namely Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE.[2]

On the face of it, there were indeed indications of a possible improvement in the relations between the countries, including the fact that Qatar was represented at the summits by its prime minister, Aal Thani, who is the highest-ranking Qatari official to visit Saudi Arabia since the boycott began. Moreover, Saudi King Salman shook Aal Thani's hand, and Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was also seen to shake hands with him. Furthermore, Qatar's flag was flown in Mecca along with those of the other attending states. Qatari Foreign Minister Muhammad bin 'Abd Al-Rahman Aal Thani tweeted on May 30 that his country's participation in the summits stemmed from its commitment to "joint Arab and Islamic action," and noted the importance of dialogue and cooperation for defending the region's security.[3]

In Saudi Arabia, only a few officials addressed the issue of Qatar's participation at the summit, among them Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-'Assaf. At a joint press conference with GCC Secretary-General 'Abd Al-Latif Al-Zayani and Arab League Secretary-General Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit, Al-'Assaf noted the importance of Qatar's participation at the Mecca summits at a higher level of participation than previously, while noting that Qatar had always attended the GCC summits. He also remarked that "Gulf countries" (hinting at Kuwait) were acting to resolve the crisis with it, but that these efforts would only succeed if Qatar "mended its ways."[4]

However, even as the summits commenced, there were indications of continued tension between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. According to a report by the Rai Al-Yawm website, while the Qatari prime minister was being welcomed by the Saudi king at a reception for the participants of the summits, Qatar's Al-Jazeera aired footage of past missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia that its Patriot anti-missile system had failed to intercept.[5] Two days after the summits ended, Qatar expressed reservations regarding their concluding statements (unlike Iraq, which expressed its reservations regarding the Arab League statement at the summit itself). The concluding statements harshly condemned the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities and oil tankers, and called on Iran to respect the sovereignty of other countries, refrain from interfering in their affairs, and stop supporting militias and terror organizations. The GCC concluding statement also underscored Gulf unity in the face of threats, and expressed support for the U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran.[6] Qatar objected to the GCC and Arab League statements due to the harsh tone towards Iran and due to the mention of Gulf unity when the boycott on Qatar has not been lifted.  

Qatar's willingness to participate in the summits at a high level, coupled with its belated expression of reservations regarding their concluding statements, is apparently an attempt to maintain its good relations with both Iran and the U.S., and to maneuver between the two sides in this tense period.[7]  However, its reservations also indicate its continued support of Iran and its refusal to be part of the Gulf front vis-à-vis Iran and its allies.

 The following are Qatari responses to the summits and their concluding statements, and from Saudi responses to the Qatari reservations.

Qatari Responses To The Mecca Summits

Explaining Qatar's reservations about the summits' concluding statements, Qatari Foreign Minister Muhammad 'Abd Al-Rahman Aal Thani told the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel that they had been drafted without consulting the participating states, which was a breach of protocol, and that they contravened Qatar's foreign policy by focusing on escalating tensions with Iran rather than on dialogue with it, which, he said, does not serve the interests of the countries and peoples of the region. He also complained that the concluding statements disregarded the suffering of certain peoples in the region, such as the Yemenis, Syrians, Libyans and Palestinians,[8] and wondered what was the meaning of "Gulf unity" when three Gulf countries were boycotting a fourth. He disclosed that, at the GCC summit, Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah had made efforts to settle the conflict, but to no avail, and stressed that Qatar would not be dictated to by the boycotting states.[9]

It should be noted that even before the summits, articles in the Qatari press expressed pessimism about their outcome on the grounds that they would focus on Saudi concerns while disregarding issues that concern the Arab world at large.[10] Some editorials in the Qatari government press praised their country's participation in the summits and stressed its willingness for dialogue, and several also criticized the ongoing boycott on Qatar. [11]

Following the summits, Qatari editorials and articles expressed disappointment that they had not contributed to settling the Gulf crisis and ending the siege on Qatar, and had not addressed the suffering of certain Arab peoples. For example, the Qatari Al-Raya daily stated in its June 3 editorial that Qatar had objected to the concluding statements because they had been dictated in advance, and because they disregarded the Gulf crisis and the Qatar siege. Likewise, a June 3 article in Al-Sharq, by Muhammad Ibrahim Al-Mohannadi, criticized Saudi Arabia for not placing the Gulf crisis at the top of the agenda.[12] An article published by Al-Watan director-general Ahmad 'Ali on June 5, which was the second anniversary of the Qatar boycott, condemned the "hypocrisy" of the GCC, which talks of Gulf unity while continuing to boycott Qatar, and called it "The Council of Disgrace."[13]

Cartoon in Qatari daily: The "resolutions" of the Mecca summits are good only for stirring tea (Al-Raya, Qatar, June 3, 2019)

Saudi, Gulf Responses To Qatar's Reservations

In response to the Qatari reservations, officials and articles in the countries boycotting Qatar claimed that its negative attitude towards the summits stemmed from its dependence on foreign forces, hinting at Iran. Saudi State Minister for Foreign Affairs 'Adel Al-Jubeir tweeted: "Sovereign states declare their positions and reservations regarding conferences at the conferences [themselves and not after them]... Qatar expressed reservations today about two [concluding] statements that condemn the Iranian interference in the affairs of the region's countries, even though, [contrary to Qatar's claim,] the Arab League statement stressed the importance of the Palestinian issue and of the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. Everyone knows that Qatar's distortions [of the facts] come as no surprise."[14]    

Articles and opinion pieces in the Saudi press stated that Qatar has no policy or position of its own. For example, the Saudi Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily noted, citing Gulf sources, that it was pressure from Iran that made Qatar back down from its positions on the concluding statements.[15] Likewise, 'Okaz wrote in its June 4 editorial, under the headline "Qatar – When a State Has No Position of Its Own," that the Qatari regime is characterized by shifts in political positions and distortion of facts, that it lacks the courage to openly state its positions, and that it is acting in Iran's interests.[16] Additionally, Amal 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Hazani pondered, in her column in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, whether Doha had become the fifth Arab capital to be ruled by Iran – along with Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus, and Sanaa.[17]

Cartoon in Saudi daily: Qatar repeats what Iran whispers in its ear, saying in Persian: "We have reservations about the statement" (Al-Iqtisadiyya, Saudi Arabia, June 3, 2019)

* B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1], May 19, 2019.

[3], May 30, 2019.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Saudi Arabia), May 31, 2019.

[5], May 31, 2019.

[6] GCC summit concluding statement, Al-Bayan (UAE), May 30-31, 2019.

[7] U.S. media even reported that it was pressure from the U.S. that made Qatar send a high-level representative to the summits (see, May 31, 2019). An editorial on the Bloomberg website stated that achieving a resolution to the Gulf crisis at the Saudi summits would serve the interest of the U.S., which is striving to form a unified Gulf front against Iran and to establish an "Arab NATO" (, May 29, 2019).

[8], June 3, 2019.

[9], June 3, 2019. The Qatari Foreign Minister made similar statements to the Al-Arabi channel, aired by the London-based Qatari BEIN network, stating that the siege on Qatar impacts the security of the entire region (, June 3, 2019; Al-Sharq, Qatar, June 4, 2019).

[10] For example, a May 30 editorial in London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi assessed that the summits would fail due to the policy of Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and a columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Sharq, Ahmad 'Abd Al-Malik, wrote on May 29 that the summits were pointless and would yield no results.

[11] See Al-Sharq editorial from May 31, 2019, June 2, 2019 article by Al-Watan director-general Ahmad 'Ali, and June 1 article by Muhammad Qayrat in Al-Sharq.

[12] Journalist Ibtisam Aal Sa'd made similar statements in another Al-Sharq article published that day.

[13] Al-Watan (Qatar), June 5, 2019.

[14], June 2, 2019. UAE Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash tweeted that Qatar's reservations are due to pressure exerted (presumably by Iran) on "the weak and unsovereign" (i.e., Qatar), and also from "lack of good faith," "unreliability," or "all of the above" ( June 2, 2019). Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmad Aal Khalifa said that Qatar's reservations indicate that improving its relations with the GCC counties is not at the top of its agenda and that it is counting on "mediators" to rescue it from the boycott. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 3, 2019.

[15] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 3, 2019.

[16] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), June 4, 2019. In other articles on the subject, Khaled Al-Suleiman stressed in his June 4 column in 'Okaz that Qatar does not make independent decisions and does not appreciate its (Gulf) allies' efforts at rapprochement with their neighbors, and Mashari Al-Dhaidi, in his June 3, 2019 column in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, condemned Qatar's links to Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood and wondered who Qatar was lining up with when it withdrew from the anti-Iran concluding statements.

[17] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 5, 2019.

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