In the latest unseemly episode in the GCC squabble, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister called what he described as Qatar’s demand for an internationalisation of the Muslim haj pilgrimage, a declaration of war against the kingdom.
Speaking on Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television, the Kingdom’s foreign minister observed: “Qatar’s demands to internationalise the holy sites is aggressive and a declaration of war against the kingdom,” Adel al-Jubeir noted adding: “We reserve the right to respond to anyone who is working on the internationalisation of the holy sites,” he said.
Meanwhile, his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani was busy denying that any official from his homeland had ever made such a call. However, according to reports, Qatar did accuse the Saudis of politicising haj and addressed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion on Saturday, expressing concern about obstacles facing Qataris who want to attend haj this year.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain previously issued a list of 13 demands for Qatar, which included curtailing its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting down the Doha-based Al Jazeera channel, closing a Turkish military base and downgrading its relations with Iran. Recently, foreign ministers of the four countries said they were ready for dialogue with Qatar if it showed willingness to tackle their demands.
There are no winners in this embarrassing debacle, to which a halt must soon surely be called. Could it be time to call for the intervention of Sultan Qaboos of Oman to mediate between the feuding states? His wisdom and integrity are second to none and may be our best hope of bringing a swift end to these shenanigans before it all ends in tears. The countries of the GCC have put more than 30 years of hard work into presenting a united front to the rest of the world, it would be a tragedy to see the foundations of the organisation crumble now, at a time when global unity and brotherly love have rarely been less apparent.