Qatar’s surprise decision to leave OPEC, announced for maximum effect ahead of the organization’s meeting this week in Vienna, has inevitably raised questions about whether it might also quit the Gulf Cooperation Council.
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The explanations offered by Qatar for its withdrawal from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries after 57 years could easily — indeed, more convincingly — be used to justify an exit from the GCC.
Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister, has tweeted that OPEC “is only being used for purposes aimed at harming our national interest.”
(The blockade has been going on for 18 months and counting, and it stems from Saudi accusations that Qatar is destabilizing the region by cozying up to Iran, charges Doha contests.)
The inability of the GCC to resolve the dispute has underscored the council’s limitations. Qatar may now believe that it has nothing materially to gain from continued membership.
But here’s the twist: Exiting OPEC, a powerful cartel with a real impact on world affairs, will cost Qatar little, being a minor-league oil producer with little influence on the group’s decisions; leaving the GCC, an ineffectual grouping that has little impact on regional affairs, could cost it a lot.
If Qatar were to pull out, it would reinforce the Saudi-Emirati claim that the ruling family in Doha is undermining the Arab consensus.
Staying in the alliance allows Qatar to signal that it is committed to regional cooperation, putting the onus for ending the blockade on the Saudis and Emiratis.
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