Published: Thu, December 07, 2017
World | By Melba Underwood

GDA 2017: UAE-Saudi alliance underscores GCC turbulence

A new UAE-Saudi Committee may effectively sideline its predecessor, as the two countries far outweigh their fellow GCC members, when it comes to military might, political leverage and economic potential.

The crisis-hit Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit was going ahead in Kuwait City despite uncertainty over which leaders from among Riyadh and its allies would in the end join their Qatari rival for the talks.

The Emirati ministry said the new "committee is assigned to cooperate and coordinate between the UAE and Saudi Arabia in all military, political, economic, trade and cultural fields, as well as others, in the interest of the two countries".

According to media reports, the committee will be headed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE's deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs, will serve as the Deputy Chairman of the committee.

Veteran former president Ali Abdullah Saleh was killed in a roadside attack on Monday after switching sides in the war and abandoning his Iran-aligned Houthi allies in favour of a Saudi-led coalition. While the UAE denies that a missile was sacked towards one of its nuclear plants, Saudi Arabia claimed its Patriot missile system successfully intercepted a Houthi missile, targeted at Riyadh airport.

Shortly thereafter, GCC members Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE accused Qatar of having close ties with Iran, and supporting radical Islamist militants.

The conclusion of the 38th GCC summit in Kuwait after just a day of meetings exemplified the extent of the rift that has paralysed the committee since June.

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said the summit took place in "highly sensitive circumstances".

"The justifications for the existence of the GCC bloc amidst the continued crisis are no longer present like before", said Sami al-Faraj, head of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies.

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Michael Stephens, head of RUSI Qatar, told Middle East Eye that the deal likely reflected the actuality of the Gulf's modern alliances. Qatar denies the allegations.

Al-Thani sat around a large wooden table in Bayan Palace with representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain to make preparations for the top-level summit.

"Most people in the GCC have been very vocal about their opinions of the Gulf crisis on social media but they were nearly unanimous in their praise for the efforts of the Kuwaiti leadership in recent months to resolve the crisis", Tahir explained.

In October, Bahrain called for Qatar's membership of the GCC to be suspended until it accepted the demands.

The failure of the GCC members to solidify long-delayed plans for economic unity may also threaten its future.

"For post-Brexit deals, the United Kingdom would obviously prefer to go with the GCC and make it a GCC deal", he said.

Although, the Council has formally approved the creation of a common market, a single currency and a customs union, few of these measures are being implemented, as its members can not agree on how to institutionalize these radical reforms.

Speaking at Monday's meeting, Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al Sabah stressed the determination of member states to preserve the GCC.

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