GCC News Roundup: Bahrain’s FM doesn’t see end to GCC crisis, Saudi Arabia arrests women’s rights activists (May 1 – May 31)

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) logo is seen during a meeting in Manama, Bahrain April 7, 2016. To match GULF-HEZBOLLAH/LEBANON REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst -

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

GCC crisis continues despite Pompeo’s efforts

On Tuesday, May 1, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash tweeted the following statement: “I sincerely advise Qatar that there will not be any mediation from outside the gulf,” he posted. “No pressure will work, media campaigns will not alter your fate, your crisis is ongoing. Be wise and negotiate with your neighbors who have real concerns, to solve the outstanding differences.” This followed the U.S. secretary of state’s remarks in April, which called for  GCC leaders to resolve their differences in order to ensure regional stability. In reference to these developments, Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed al-Thani, the head of the government communications office in Doha stated, “They simply want to outsource our decisions, but we will never be a follower state. We are an independent state and make our own decisions.” 

bAHRAIN revokes citizenship of 115 people based on terrorism charges

On Tuesday, May 15, a Bahraini court revoked the citizenship of 115 people on terrorism charges, 53 of whom received life sentences. The accused were believed to have been involved in militant activities in connection with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The government attributed the country’s recent civil unrest to Iran and Hezbollah involvement. Commenting on the verdicts, Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy activist, Sayed Ahmed Alwadai said, “This outrageously harsh sentence is setting a new level of injustice in Bahrain. Rendering people stateless in a mass trial is a clear violation of international law. This is the worst verdict on the record.” Rights groups stated that the court rulings follow in the tradition of post-Arab Spring governmental crackdowns where opposition groups are suppressed and discriminated against.

KUWAIT announces U.N. draft resolution for the protection of Palestinians

Kuwait’s United Nations Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi said on Tuesday, May 15, that he would push for a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on the “protection of Palestinians.” Al-Otaibi’s announcement followed the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which resulted in violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian demonstrators. Nearly 60 Palestinian demonstrators were killed and 1,200 were injured.

U.S. and Gulf states strengthen sanctions against Hezbollah

On Wednesday May 16, the GCC states agreed to increase sanctions against Hezbollah’s senior leadership under the U.S-Gulf partnership of the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center. The partnership had been previously established last year before the onset of the GCC crisis. These developments emerged as a result of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s diplomatic efforts. The Associated Press dubbed the move as having limited practical impact, citing strict withstanding U.S. sanctions against Hezbollah. The increased sanctions followed after U.S President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Bahrain sees ‘no glimmer of hope’ for ending Qatar crisis soon

On Sunday, May 27, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa stated that the blockade in Qatar is unlikely to end soon, stating, “We were expecting from the beginning of the crisis with Qatar that the emir of Qatar would go to Saudi (Arabia) but this did not happen.”

He elaborated by saying that Qatar was prolonging the crisis by going to Western allies instead of directly to the Gulf States. The crisis has lasted nearly a year.

Saudi government releases four women’s rights activists

The Saudi authorities arrested around 11 women’s rights activists on charges of undermining national security. Saudi state media accused the mostly female activists of being “traitors” and “agents of embassies,” with suspicious contacts and financial ties abroad. The Saudi government then released four out of 11 detained women’s rights activists. The terms of release were not revealed by the authorities. The released activists were among those who had not been denounced by state-backed media.

The Saudi government had arrested numerous women’s rights activists who had previously protested the kingdom’s male guardianship system and its ban on female driving. The series of arrests happened in the wake of the country’s decision to overturn its decades-long driving ban.

Experts viewed the arrests in accordance with the country’s renewed efforts of appeasing ultraconservative religious bodies. Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic circles expressed concern over the government’s actions. According to a diplomatic source interviewed by Reuters, “These actions are inconsistent with messages of reform on which Western support for Vision 2030 is based.”

U.N. urges Saudi-led coalition to hasten Yemen food imports

The United Nations urged the Saudi-led military coalition blockading Yemen’s ports to hasten food imports in order to prevent another spike in Yemen’s ongoing food crisis. According to a U.N. report, 8.4 million people currently stand at risk of starvation. U.N Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock stated, “If conditions do not improve, a further 10 million people will fall into this category by the end of the year.” Yemen’s food security has always been tied to food importation with 90 percent of its food being imported.

Qatar bans products originating from blockading countries

The Qatari government issued a directive banning products originating from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain. The government’s official statement outlined precautionary measures to ensure the safety of Qatar’s citizens. The statement read, “Products originating from the blockading states, which as a result of the blockade cannot pass the Gulf Cooperation Council Customs Territory, have to undergo proper import inspections and customs procedures.”