What’s Behind Belated Saudi Invitation to Qatari Emir to Mecca Summits?
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What’s Behind Belated Saudi Invitation to Qatari Emir to Mecca Summits?

On May 20, the Persian Gulf Arab emirate said that its Emir was not invited to the two emergency summits of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation Council and Arab League. On May 27, however, it said it was sent an invitation letter by the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The invitation has given rise to a set of questions about the real motivation driving the Saudi ruler to send the invitation. Is the invitation meant to start a period of de-escalation and end to the crisis between Doha and the Riyadh-led Arab camp? If yes, will Saudi Arabia take back its 13 demands that it asked Qatar to implement to help normalization of the bilateral ties? What if the Saudis do not intend to retreat? So what is the main goals behind the invitation and what political move towards the invitation can bring Doha the maximum political achievement? Over the past few months, Saudi Arabia’s behavior to Qatar was marked by strict and flexible stances made simultaneously. This paradoxical behavior reached its peak in the invitation to the Mecca summits. On the one hand, the Saudis seem to have abandoned the policy of isolating Doha and by inviting its emir apparently admitted to the Arab state’s role and weight in the regional developments. The media at the same time published images of a Qatari plane landing in a Saudi airport. On the other hand, the invitation was sent 10 days late and a couple of days before the letter was sent, the Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir in a press conference policy, saying Saudi Arabia does not allow Doha to support terrorism and extremism and meddle in the kingdom’s home affairs. Also, Abdullah al-Maalami, the permanent Saudi ambassador to the United Nations commented on the Qatari role in the summits, saying that it is too small to divide the participating members. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has recently called on the UNESCO to relocate its office from Doha to Jeddah or Manama citing poor performance. Additionally, reports suggest that Saudi Arabia will soon execute Salman al-Ouda, a Saudi opposition preacher with affiliations to the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement Qatar supports but Saudi Arabia blacklisted in 2014.  Certainly, in such situation there is no sign of a full de-escalation intention that will mark an end to the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council’s crisis that started in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, assisted by the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, cut off ties with Qatar and foisted a blockade on it for what they Saud support for terrorism and also friendly relations with Iran, a rival to Saudi Arabia in the region. With this in mind, we should seek other drives for Riyadh behind the invitation. Saudi Arabia wants to tell the world that the international community and the Arab countries are in a consensus against the so-called Iranian regional meddling and destabilizing activities. Al-Maalami recently said that the Arabs exhibited consensus in two recently held conferences in Tunisia and Saudi Arabia with issuing statements condemning Iran’s behavior in the region. He continued: “I do not think the Arabs are divided when it comes to facing the Iranian meddling. Yes, we differ in tactics and methods, but there is Arab consensus on the principal issues. We will see this in the upcoming Mecca summits.” Saudi Arabia seeks to rally against Iran using the summits. Now that the Qatari Emir declined to attend OIC summit, Saudis still can claim that Doha is opposed to the very principle of countering Iran. This vindicates the stances of the blockaders. But the foreign pressures on Saudi Arabia to solve the crisis cannot be disregarded. US President Donald Trump’s administration is unceasingly pursuing the Arab NATO initiative. It finds the intra-Arab division the main obstacles ahead of its project. In fact, the policy to counter Iran and settlement of Palestine issue will not come to fruition without the Arab allies of the US. That is why over the past few months Trump has been focused on solving the Cooperation Council crisis. There is also the Kuwaiti efforts to mediate between Qatar and the four blockading countries. The Kuwaiti efforts could have encouraged the invitation. In December 2018, Saudi Arabia invited the emir to (P)GCC summit in Dammam. Al Thani rejected to attend, however. What is important was Qatar’s reaction to the invitation. Qatar smartly publicized the Saudi decline to invite Doha when other invitations were sent to other nations. It wanted first to tell the world that it was Riyadh that did not seek dialogue to settle the crisis and second to expose Saudi Arabia’s fake claims of working towards Arab unity. Qatar wanted to make it clear to the Arab world that the Saudi rulers only eye a monopoly of role playing in the (P)GCC and the Arab League. With this move, Qatar turned the invitation into a win for itself and a loss to the blockaders who have so far failed to impose their 13 demands on Doha leaders using threats and ban. When Saudi King Salman invited Qatar's Emir to the Mecca summit, Doha decided to send Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani to the meeting instead.

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