The Gulf Cooperation Council, a coalition of six Gulf Arab monarchies established in 1981 to defend the borders of the Arab sheikdoms from Iran's revolutionary government, has gotten itself into a pickle.
Diplomatic disagreements between Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar aren't unprecedented. They've happened before throughout history; indeed, just because a group of states are members of a regional club doesn't at all mean that they agree on anything and everything all of the time.
Riyadh, accustomed to being the big brother to all of the other little brothers in the Gulf, has frequently lashed out publicly and privately at Doha's willingness to pursue a foreign policy that is destabilizing in the minds of the al-Saud family. Due to their financial and political support to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, their financial contributions to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and their relatively pragmatic relationship with the Iranians, the Qatari royals are typically type-casted as the outcasts of the GCC.
The simple rule of thumb is that Saudi Arabia and the UAE want the status quo to prevail above all else, while Qatar wants to tap into any opportunity or political entity that will provide the gas-rich peninsular nation with influence on par with a genuine regional player. Riyadh, to state the obvious, doesn't exactly appreciate the GCC's black sheep challenging its authority.
In 2014, the Saudis, Emiratis, and Bahrainis withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in what was seen at the time as the worst diplomatic crisis to hit the Gulf states in a generation. The current rupture in relations, however, makes the 2014 episode look like a minor matter.
The Saudis and Emiratis are crystal clear about what they want from their Qatari neighbors; a full and complete surrender leading to a change in how Doha has conducted its regional business over the previous twenty years. The list of thirteen demands that were sent to Doha — a list that includes the termination of the Al-Jazeera television network, the closure of a Turkish military base on Qatari soil, and an auditing mechanism over Qatari affairs for the next ten years — is a not-so-polite way of telling the Qataris to pound sand. What Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir vows as a non-negotiable, take-it-or-leave-it offer is rightly seen by the Qatari royal family as an attempt to publicly humiliate them.
It's difficult to determine how this all ends. If the Saudis aren't willing to negotiate and the UAE appears more content with increasing Doha's economic and diplomatic isolation than compromising, there isn't much any mediator can do. The Kuwaitis are doing their best to keep it in the Gulf family, hoping that backroom dealing can push all sides to cool their rhetoric and be more reasonable.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been on the phone over several dozen times, in addition to hosting Kuwaiti and Qatari officials, hoping that he can help resolve this conflict through sheer perseverance.
It's been about a month since this Gulf separation began, and it's become ever more apparent that nothing is working. There's always a hope that everybody will come to their senses and accept some kind of consensual arrangement. But based on the way the Saudi-bloc is operating, we are getting closer to the day when Qatar may be pushed out of the GCC as a member. The Iranians, meanwhile, are grinning through their teeth, ready to capitalize on the divorce.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog and a fellow at Defense Priorities. If you would like to write an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, please read our guidelines on submissions here.