2023 Portfolios: Relations Between Manama and Doha Remain Tense

Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani receiving King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Doha - December 5, 2023
Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani receiving King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Doha - December 5, 2023

2024-02-17 - 4:11 م

Bahrain Mirror (2023 Portfolios): Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa did not anticipate that the process of normalizing relations with the country closest to his own, with which he shares historical and ancestral ties, would stretch over nearly three years, during which he would be subjected to unprecedented humiliation. However, this is what happened. 

Following the signing of the Al-Ula agreement in 2021, Bahrain thought it had turned a new leaf in its relations with Qatar, only to realize that Doha was in no hurry to normalize relations with its smaller Gulf neighbor. On the contrary, the Qatari authorities seemed inclined to ignore Bahrain, as if it doesn't exist.

Bahrain's eagerness for reconciliation continued to be met with indifference from Qatar, and Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al-Zayani grew tired of publicly calling for negotiations to resolve the outstanding issues between the two countries. 

Approximately a year and a half later, specifically in July 2022, the King of Bahrain took advantage of his attendance at the Gulf summit that brought together other regional rulers with the US President in Jeddah, making a surprise visit to the residence of the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.  He had hoped that this gesture would lead to an end to the estrangement, and potentially secure some financial benefits, expected from Qatar's hosting of the World Cup in late 2022. 

Sitting with his Qatari host over Arabic coffee, King Hamad thought the tension was over. Bahraini newspapers then rushed to publish the photos and news of the meeting in the middle of the night, only to be surprised by the official and unofficial Qatari media's silence, treating the meeting as if it had not occurred.

The message reached Bahrain loud and clear: Qatar was not ready to throw a lifeline to Bahrain at that point. Weeks after the meeting, Qatar announced that it had reached an agreement with Gulf states to receive 180 flights daily during the World Cup. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia prepared its Eastern Province and infrastructure for World Cup attendees, crossing the land border.

In the meantime, Bahrain remained completely isolated from Qatar, and 2022 passed without any significant progress apart from occasional meetings hosted at the GCC building in Riyadh at the level of foreign ministers. 

In 2023, Bahrain persisted in its efforts, culminating in King Hamad's visit to Qatar at the year's end, where he shook hands with the Emir, exchanged hugs, and sat beside him to participate in the Gulf summit held in Doha. However, it remains unclear whether this visit came after Bahrain fulfilled what was required of it, or was merely within the limits of Qatari protocols for hosting the GCC summit.

Arabic Version