9 July 2017

Sudan: At Crossroads

opinion

Though the crisis in the Gulf seems to be heading to join a long list of world crises that remain unresolved, but in effect there is a possibility that things may turn around.

Initially it was the prediction of the State Department that, "we've become increasingly concerned that dispute is at an impasse at this point. We believe that this could potentially drag on for weeks. It could drag on for months. It could possibly even intensify," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Thursday.

This conclusion seems to be an outcome of two main factors: the miscalculation by the Saudi-led boycott camp and the contradicting and ineffective role played by the Trump administration so far.

As for the miscalculation it is evident from the way the whole plan to penalize Qatar was carried out. It started with the maximum punitive measures that included severing diplomatic relations, air, land and sea blockade apparently with the hope that Qatar collapses immediately to the extent that there was no an exit strategy. But as time passes by, Qatar managed to overcome the blockade by opening up to new alternatives and the Saudi-led campaign was left pondering on its next move.

The extension of the deadline for Qatar to meet the 13 conditions by 48 hours was the first sign that things are not going well. Then came the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, where Riyadh failed to get a favorable decision supporting its stand. Neither did it have more African countries severing their diplomatic relations with Doha as has been hoped.

That was culminated by the indecisive outcome of the Cairo meeting, where the foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt convened to declare what has already been known that Qatar is not yielding adding that they will meet yet again in Manama in a date that has not been set and to take unspecified measures. More significantly and in a statement issued one day after Cairo meeting the quartet said their list of demands that contains 13 items is no longer on the table.

Whether these latest developments were resulting from the telephone call between President Donald Trump and his counterpart the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi or not, the reality now is that there are no specific demands to discuss, unless the intelligence chiefs of the quartet are planning somethings different.

However, in case it proved to be correct that the list of demands was withdrawn, this should be seen as a tangible cooling of the confrontation that could open the way for de-escalation of the crisis if there is somebody that is able and willing enough to pick the challenge.

The US is well suited to play that role given its relations with the two camps in addition to its interests though that depends on reigning in President Trump.

It was under the State Department pressure that the Saudi-led camp issued its conditions in the first place. Now there is some talk that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is planning a trip to the region to beef up the Kuwaiti mediation effort.

By now the crisis seems to have entered into a new zone since taken punitive measures are not working fast enough to produce the desired results. This stalemate may create a conducive environment for a pragmatic mediation and that is where Tillerson trip could be of real value.

Another aspect of this state of stalemate is that the Saudi-led camp will be less enthusiastic to push for the either with us or with Qatar principle as has been suggested. The boycott weapon could be counterproductive as has been the case with China or Germany decades ago.

One of the beneficiaries of this new stage will be Sudan, which has been trying to walk the tight robe between the two opposing camps. The Saudi ambassador to Sudan was trying to send message that time is approaching whereby Sudan has to make its choice, but even his statements that were wrapped in a diplomatic language were met with uncharacteristic criticism from a number of columnists.

Sudan may be counting on its staunch anti-Iran stand and the fact that it has been contributing substantially in the Yemen war as credentials enabling it to mediate effectively in the Gulf crisis, but given the country's domestic problems and the fact that it lies on the fringes regionally its role could be supportive at best and better play it in a low profile way.

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