Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman arrived in Doha yesterday for the first time since Riyadh and several Arab allies imposed an embargo on Qatar in mid-2017. The de-facto ruler, widely known as MBS, was received on arrival by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamed Al-Thani.
Qatar is MBS’ third stop on a tour of Gulf states ahead of the first Gulf Cooperation Council summit in four years scheduled for later this month, which would signal that the bitter dispute between them has finally been put aside.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 and issued a list of demands including the shutting of the Al Jazeera News Network. The four countries had also blocked land, air and sea routes to Qatar, accusing Doha of supporting terrorism, and cosying up to Iran, a regional adversary of many Gulf Arab states. Doha denied the charges.
Qatar did not give into the list of demands and ultimately ended the dispute as the stronger player in the region, demonstrated by the outsized role during the US-led evacuation from Afghanistan over the summer as well the key role it has played in facilitating contact with the country’s Taliban rulers following the closure of Western embassies there.In January, the blockading countries agreed to end the row, six months after the International Court of Justice, the UN’s top court, ruled in favour of Qatar over the dispute with its Arab neighbours.
Saudi Arabia and Egypt have led efforts to restore relations with Qatar, with Riyadh and Cairo appointing new ambassadors to Doha. Abu Dhabi and Manama have not followed suit. Qatar has also re-established trade and travel links with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, but not with Bahrain.
Qatar’s emir has travelled to Saudi Arabia and met MBS several times since the end of the dispute. Yesterday’s visit was the Saudi prince’s first official trip to Qatar since he was named crown prince in 2017.
MBS’ Gulf tour is said to be aimed at fortifying ties between the Arab neighbours as world powers seek to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Talks in Vienna have entered a critical phase with all parties holding onto their maximalist position.
MBS has already stopped in Oman and the UAE where he visited Expo 2020 in Dubai yesterday before taking the short flight to Doha. He is expected to travel to Bahrain and Kuwait.