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Will the reconciliation of the Gulf governments lead to better relations with their own citizens?

Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) ahead of the 41st Summit of Gulf Cooperation Council in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on January 05, 2021 [Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]
Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (L) is welcomed by Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (R) in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on 5 January 2021 [Royal Council of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

The start of the New Year has been good for us in the Gulf. The cloud of estrangement is about to disappear, and the skies, land and sea have opened for free movement to and from Qatar. The blockade imposed on the state in June 2017 has been lifted, thanks in large part to the good offices of Kuwait and Oman, who mediated in the efforts to bring about reconciliation. Their efforts were appreciated and produced sincere responses from Doha and Riyadh. It was fitting that the reconciliation was agreed in the city of Al-Ula to the north of Madinah, where Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, found refuge. If this was an omen, then distress will dissipate and relations will return to normal.

Although we saw the Gulf leaders sign the reconciliation agreement, we do not know the details of the document. Only general information has been made public, such as not interfering in the internal affairs of Gulf Cooperation Council member states, confronting the common enemy, and so on. The ordinary citizens who endured the pain and burden of the blockade for more than three years should surely be told what else was included in the declaration agreed in Al-Ula.

Donald Trump's son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, followed the issue from the very beginning and saw it through to the end. He will probably write the story in his memoirs from the American viewpoint. I hope, though, that someone will also present the facts about the blockade and reconciliation from an Arab point of view, in order to kill the opportunity for anyone to make a profit at our expense. We told them our secrets and then they write our history; the next step will be that we teach it to our future generations from an American perspective and not our own.

There are strong family bonds between Qataris and their neighbours, and this has been evident from the post-reconciliation response on the streets and in the markets and cafes. Citizens from across the Gulf have been welcoming each other again with open arms and hearts. This is a great accomplishment, and we ask the Almighty to keep estrangement away from us.

READ: Gulf reconciliation can help solve many regional issues

Will the reconciliation between governments lead to those governments reconciling with their citizens, though? The people in the Gulf region want a reconciliation that encourages freedom of speech that unites and does not divide, not the continued silencing of voices and the prevalence of hypocritical media over those with sincere opinions who are loyal to their Arab and Muslim nations. Criticism of state policy at home or abroad does not mean hostility towards the political system and its officials. It is offered in the spirit of "naseehah" (sincere advice) to decision-makers and, it should be accepted as such for the mutual benefit of all. The strength of the state is based on the strength and cohesion of the home front; this can only happen with freedom of expression and honesty.

There are some who jumped on the blockade bandwagon and remain hostile to one party or another for personal gain or status, not for the sake of national reform. Such behaviour should be ignored. Reconciliation takes time.

Those concerned with openness and reconciliation generally want to raise up their countries and not simply profit personally. Genuine reconciliation requires dialogue amongst those with divergent viewpoints, and they should be freed from their prisons and chains to expand the schools of thought. "Whoever opens a school, closes a prison," says the Arabic proverb. The school we need to open now is the school of dialogue with people wielding honest and sincere pens. Dialogue with writers and thinkers strengthens the political system. The tools to do this include freedom of expression and participation in the decision-making process. In order for leaders to be strong, they need thinkers, wisdom, writers and opinion former around them, not sycophants, hypocrites and liars who whitewash bad behaviour simply to get the leaders' approval. Such an entourage destroys a government and its nation.

To the leaders of the reconciled states I say this: do not be afraid of those with an opinion. Instead, fear your opportunistic entourage.

Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid, 17 January 2021, and edited for MEMO.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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