Families rejoice as GCC Summit cements the ties that bind Gulf countries

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
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Updated 06 January 2021

Families rejoice as GCC Summit cements the ties that bind Gulf countries

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)
  • Saudi Arabia reopened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar in advance of the 41st GCC Summit in AlUla
  • Families divided by the three-year border closure took to social media to celebrate the announcement

 

JEDDAH: Social media in the Gulf region has been flooded with celebratory joy since news broke that Saudi Arabia had reopened its airspace and land and sea borders with Qatar as part of a deal to end a three-year diplomatic crisis. For many, the story is deeply personal.

On Tuesday Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the GCC Summit in AlUla that the agreement to mend ties with Qatar underscored the importance of solidarity and security among Gulf, Arab and Muslim states.

A public embrace earlier in the day between the Crown Prince and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at AlUla airport capped the Qatari ruler’s arrival on Saudi soil for the first time since 2017.




audi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a meeting with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani at the Maraya Hall in the historic city of Al-Ula on Tuesday. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court)

For hundreds of separated families, the significance of the reopening of borders and resumption of travel between Saudi Arabia and Qatar cannot be overstated, given the unique social fabric of the Gulf region, with its cross-border ties of marriage and blood.

Videos surfaced on social media showing men, women and children dancing and rejoicing at the easing of the crisis. Many said they were looking forward to reunions in the near future with their loved ones on the other side of the border.

In one video, a Qatari boy could be seen jumping with excitement as he spoke with his father over the phone, exchanging promises of a reunion amid laughter, tears of joy visible on the boy’s face. “Yalla (come on), let’s go” the boy said and the father replied something to the effect: Get ready soon, my son.

Equally euphoric were the sentiments of Ismail Mohammed @soom3a70, a forward for Qatar’s Al-Duhail FC football club. Born and raised in Makkah, the city where his mother still resides, he took to the social-media platform to express his delight with the latest developments. “Good news mom, our get-together is near,” he wrote.

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Similar scenes were probably playing out among members of many other families separated since 2017. Sara Abdulhakeem Abdullah, a 22-year-old Saudi who married her Qatari husband in 2018, can now freely travel to the Kingdom.

“I was awakened by my husband late last night with the news of the reopening of borders,” she told Arab News. “Words fail me. It is so hard to put my feelings into words. I had been trying for a long time to find an easy way to go back to Jeddah where my parental family resides.”

Despite the restrictions on air travel within the GCC countries on account of the coronavirus pandemic, last month Abdullah was able to briefly visit her loved ones in Jeddah with the support of her Qatari family. But the journey was circuitous and tiring both for her and her daughter, now a year old.

“Moving from one airport to another, waiting in transit for hours, is not the easiest thing,” she said. “The journey was worth it in the end as I had not seen my father or siblings since getting married.”




Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gives Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani a tour around the historic city of AlUla on Tuesday. (Supplied)

As a newlywed who had to adjust to a new life abroad for the first time in her life, Sara said it was not easy being unable to meet up with her parental family. The pain of the separation was even more pronounced during her pregnancy, when she was not sure when her parents and siblings would be able to meet the first granddaughter of the family.

Shortly before her due date, she was united with her mother and youngest sister but the reunion was still short of three family members. Although she was relieved to have them by her side, her joy was short-lived as the two visitors had to return to Saudi Arabia within a month.

“It was the most difficult thing one can ever imagine, a feeling I wouldn’t want anyone to experience. Those first few months of marriage were one thing, but not having my mother around when I needed her was the most difficult,” she said. “But it’s all old news now. The good times are soon to come.”

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Twitter: @Rawanradwan8


Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
Updated 17 January 2021

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU

Facing Biden, Erdogan extends olive branch to EU
  • While Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long
  • His direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe

ANKARA: Facing a potentially hostile US administration, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to break his isolation by mending EU relations, torn by what the bloc views as his bellicose foreign policy.
Ties between Ankara and Brussels have plunged to a nadir not seen since Turkey formally opened talks to join the bloc in 2005, a process which is now frozen.
And while Erdogan speaks of turning “a new page,” the list of European grievances is long.
Most recently, Brussels began drawing up a list of sanctions over Turkey’s hunt for natural gas in the eastern Mediterranean, which triggered a naval standoff with Greece last year.
But older suspicions simmer.
Erdogan’s direct military interventions in the Syrian and Libyan conflicts raised hackles in Europe, while his vocal backing of Azerbaijan in the six-week Nagorno-Karabakh war upset Armenia’s allies across the West.
Erdogan’s threats to send millions of Syrian and other refugees Turkey is hosting to Europe if the bloc fails to provide more funding are a constant menace.
And he has made the animosity personal by attacking French President Emmanuel Macron’s treatment of Muslims, which Europe counters by pointing to Turkey’s grim record on human rights.
Some believe this standoff is unsustainable for Erdogan.
“Ankara cannot afford an escalation with both the US and Europe, especially with an economy this fragile,” a European diplomat told AFP.

'Looking for friends anywhere'
Turkey’s heavy dependence on Europe is borne out by the numbers.
EU member states accounted for 67.2 percent of foreign direct investments in Turkey between 2002-2018, according to official data.
With foreign sentiment dented, the Turkish lira lost a fifth of its value against the dollar last year, forcing the central bank to burn through most of its reserves trying to prop up the currency.
Then Erdogan parted ways with his powerful son-in-law, who served as finance minister and bore the blame for Turkey’s economic woes.
A few days later, Erdogan first mentioned reforms and “turning a new page” in relations with Europe.
“Erdogan is looking for friends anywhere and everywhere,” said Ilke Toygur, an analyst at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and Elcano Royal Institute.
To this end, Erdogan held a meeting on Tuesday with EU ambassadors — described as “positive” by some of those who took part — while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will visit Brussels on Thursday.
Macron and Erdogan have also exchanged letters that Cavusoglu said could help reboot their relations, leading to a possible video conference call.

Mounting domestic pressure
US President-elect Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump, who once called the Turkish leader a “good friend,” appears to be at least partially responsible for Erdogan’s shift in tone.
“Biden’s victory has reshuffled the cards. Turkey expects the next US administration will be less inclined to let it off the hook,” the European diplomat said.
Certain appointments by Biden are likely to raise hairs in Ankara, none more so than Brett McGurk’s naming to the National Security Council, where he will oversee the Middle East and Africa.
McGurk has been an outspoken critic of Turkey’s policy on Syria, where the US supports a Kurdish militia that Ankara blames for attacks on its soil, and will play an important role in shaping Washington’s relations with Erdogan.
“This seeming call for a rapprochement with the EU can be interpreted as preparation” for Biden, said Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies in Berlin.
Erdogan was once part of a select group of leaders who could dial up Trump directly on the phone, but Adar said the loss of this privilege with Biden is not the only factor behind the attempted rapprochement.
He faces “mounting domestic pressure due to economic woes accentuated by Covid-19” and a “decreasing vote share” for his ruling party and its nationalist junior partners, Adar said.

Demonstration of goodwill sought
Erdogan could demonstrate his goodwill by easing the pressure on his political opponents, some of whom are facing high-profile trials.
“For any signal from Ankara to mend relations with the EU to be perceived credible by the union, Ankara is expected to shift gears” on the rule of law and human rights as well as Turkey’s confrontational foreign policy, Adar told AFP.
Analyst Toygur said she did not think any specific action could provide a “demonstration of goodwill” from Erodgan.
But she said the sides could find points of contact on managing illegal migration, since it is “an issue of utmost importance for the stability of the EU.”
Ankara is also hoping to update the sides’ Customs Union, although Toygur said the bloc was likely to be “more demanding” on this front.
But while Europe wants to avoid further strains with Turkey, Western diplomats point to a low appetite for a rapprochement in some EU corners.
“Turkey’s charm offensive has left many European countries skeptical,” the European diplomat said.