Bilateral relations between Oman and Qatar are one of the most stable and respectful within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Oman’s Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said paid a visit to Doha last month, where he met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This underscored the longstanding ties between these two Gulf Arab countries.
When Oman’s head of state was in Qatar, the two countries signed agreements regarding taxation, ports, tourism, defence, labour, and investment. With Oman facing grave economic challenges amid the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic and a fall in oil prices, this two-day visit, and the agreements which came out of it, will help the Sultanate’s debt-burdened economy.
Sultan Haitham’s brief visit to Doha was illustrative of the importance that Oman places on Qatar as a fellow GCC state and vice versa. “I think the way that he was received, with the Qatari Air Force flying side by side to the Sultan’s aircraft, was spectacular and showed how important Oman is for the Qataris,” said Dr Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London, in an interview with TRT World.
The Qatari cabinet hailed the Omani Sultan’s visit to Doha. They stated it “established a new stage in relations between the two countries and opened up wider horizons for the good of their two brotherly peoples in a way that enhances joint Gulf action and contributes to maintaining the security and stability of the region and the welfare of its peoples.”
On the tails of the GCC crisis
The signing of these agreements between Oman and Qatar needs to be viewed within the context of the Gulf crisis that lasted from mid-2017 until January of this year. When Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) blockaded Qatar, the Omanis refused to join this group of Arab countries. It signalled that Oman wasn’t willing to coerce Doha into submitting to the worldviews and security policies of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
With Oman maintaining positive relations with Doha throughout that Arabian feud, the Qataris were able to take advantage of their access to Omani ports and other infrastructure. This ultimately helped Doha weather the siege.
Put simply, amid an unprecedented crisis, the Omanis were there for Qatar. Very few people in Doha will forget that chapter in Omani-Qatari relations.
“During the crisis, Oman was of particular importance because it allowed the Qataris to bypass transshipment in Jebel Ali in the UAE,” explained Dr. Krieg. “Their investment in Duqm and other infrastructure, both maritime and in the hinterland, became very strategically important for the Qataris. I think that is something that is going to continue rather than just being an issue of the Gulf crisis.”
“With the Gulf crisis over, Qatar will continue to focus on Oman to find alternative routes to the Indian Ocean and diversify supply routes, not just in terms of anticipation of a next crisis, but also to make sure that they’re not over reliant on one port of transshipment, which was Jebel Ali before 2017.”
Economic and strategic returns
Qatar is not the only GCC member which Muscat is looking to for economic help. The Qataris are making investments in Oman similar to those which Saudi Arabia is making in the Sultanate. Like the Saudis, the Qataris are not making charitable donations; they are seeking profitable investments. But it’s more than just money-making opportunities that motivates Doha to invest in Oman; Qataris want strategic returns as well.
“It’s about Qatar’s logistical independence and the resilience of its supply chains,” Dr. Krieg told TRT World. “For Qatar, it’s all about supply chains. The relationship with Oman is about building sustainable supply chains. The investment agreements with Oman are all about helping out the Omanis on one hand but also creating win-win situations.”
“The Qataris will not only make money from these agreements but will also create more sustainable and resilient supply chains…It’s not like the Qataris are doing the Omanis any favours. It’s also not like the Omanis are doing the Qataris any favours.”
Ultimately, Qatar is a supportive and reliable partner for Oman. Although under the leadership of Sultan Haitham, the Omanis have significantly improved their relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there is no denying that some tensions have strained Muscat’s relationships with its immediate GCC neighbors over the years, especially during the Sultan Qaboos era.
Different perspectives on the war in Yemen, GCC-Iran relations, and other issues have fueled degrees of friction in Oman’s relationships with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.
“Qatar...is a lot more pragmatic and strategic [than some other GCC member-states],” said Dr. Krieg. “You can rely on the Qataris without necessarily having to fear that they might turn around the next day and move against you.”
Looking ahead, these six agreements have much potential to help both the Omanis and Qataris in terms of achieving their goals. While Muscat and Doha conduct different types of foreign policies - their approaches to regional crises such as Syria differ greatly, for example - the odds are good that Sultan Haitham’s first official visit to Qatar will help lay the groundwork for more win-win scenarios down the line.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.
We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to firstname.lastname@example.org