Explainer: What will happen at the 41st GCC summit?

The 41st annual six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit is expected to herald in a new chapter of revised relations and a preliminary end to the Gulf crisis following Saudi Arabia’s reopening of its land border with Qatar.

The summit, which will take place on Tuesday in the northwestern Saudi city of Al-Ula, comes during a reconciliatory atmosphere, where Saudi Arabia, in particular, has been at the forefront of seeking to end the diplomatic dispute with Qatar.

Riyadh is also set to open its airspace and sea border, according to a statement by Kuwait’s foreign minister – whose country has been a mediator in the crisis.

“The 41st summit marks the beginning of a new chapter for the GCC as it enters its fifth decade,” secretary-general of the GCC, Nayef Falah al-Hajraf, said.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar and imposed a naval, air and land blockade on the country.

The quartet accused Doha of being too close to Iran and supporting terrorist groups. Qatar has vehemently denied the allegations and accused its neighbours of attacking its sovereignty.

More than three years on, Qatar has largely managed to weather the blockade, which has lapsed into a deadlock. However, the latest moves of rapprochement by Saudi Arabia point to an ending of the impasse.

Where do Bahrain and the UAE stand on the issue?

Egypt and the UAE have given public support for the reconciliation process, although diplomatic sources say the Emirates has been reluctant to compromise.

However, a statement by the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said the GCC is “headed in the right direction”.

“We stand before a historic summit in Al-Ula, through which we restore our Gulf cohesion and ensure that security, stability and prosperity is our top priority,” he said in a Twitter post.

On the other hand, Bahrain has repeatedly clashed with Qatar over the enforcement of maritime boundaries, with several incidents in recent months that have seen the Qatari coastguard intercept Bahraini vessels.

In a letter to the United Nations Security Council, Qatar alleged that Bahrain flew four of its fighter jets over Qatar’s territorial waters on December 9.

In its own letter to the UN, Manama denied it breached Qatari airspace during what it described as a routine exercise in Saudi Arabian and Bahraini territory.

Bahrain is acting as “a proxy”, said Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at King’s College London. “While the UAE and Saudi feel pressure to fall in line with US pressure, they can use Bahrain as a disruptor to continuously show their discontent with Qatar.”

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