ORIENT III 2021: Rapprochement in the GCC

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Dear ORIENT readers,

In 2017 it appeared that long-simmering differences between members of the GCC boiled over, escalating into the blockade of Qatar. After several years, the beginning of 2021 brought about the Al-Ula summit, which yielded official steps toward a rapprochement. While of course negotiations and resulting diplomatic steps are to be welcomed, it is worth bearing some questions in mind. Were the initial root causes for the rift, particularly between Qatar on the one and Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other side, adequately addressed? Are there any indications as to the seriousness of the agreement, ranging from symbolic politics to palpable rapprochement? In this issue, we have gathered multiple wellversed experts to shed light onto these and related questions, helping us to properly locate the results of the Al-Ula summit and what it means for the region.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen overviews the current dynamics of GCC states’ foreign policy before Mahjoob Zweiri and Thomas Bonnie James analyse the agreement reached at Al-Ula and Gawdat Bahgat delves into the strategic implications of a rapprochement. Subsequently, Simon Mabon and Mustafa Menshawy analyse Saudi-Qatari differences, while Christopher M. Davidson sheds light on Saudi Arabia’s new politics and Fatiha Dazi- Héni adds her analysis on Saudi Arabia’s regional policy. Anoushiravan Ehteshami, Benjamin Houghton and Mirdef Alqashouti shift the focus to Iran’s role in the Gulf region before Cinzia Bianco and Tobias Borck connect these layers with an analysis of the ways in which the perception of Iran influences the respective GCC states’ foreign policies. I hope that the current issue provides you with valuable perspectives on the most recent developments surrounding the Al-Ula summit and the rapprochement. May you and your loved ones stay healthy and in good spirits.

Dr. Gunter Mulack
Director of the German Orient-Institute