Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit opens in Riyadh amid diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region.

Gulf leaders and officials are meeting in Riyadh for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit on Sunday as a diplomatic crisis continues to grip the Gulf region.

The 39th GCC summit comes amid an ongoing blockade on Qatar imposed in June 2017, by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt.

The quartet has accused Qatar of supporting “terrorism” and Qatar has denied the charges and said the boycott aims to impinge on its sovereignty.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is not in attendance. Instead, a delegation headed by Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi has been sent to represent the country at the gathering.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, criticised Sheikh Tamim’s decision.

“Qatar’s emir should have accepted the fair demands [of the boycotting states] and attended the summit,” Al Khalifa said in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Experts say it remains unclear how the summit will affect the ongoing dispute, as the “largely-symbolic” body has for years abandoned its functional role of building closer ties between member states.

“Since the first [GCC] crisis in 2014, the council demonstrated its inability to mediate nor to have a significant role in easing tensions between … member states,” Luciano Zaccara, a Gulf politics researcher at Qatar University, told .

Ball in Qatar’s court’

While the agenda of this year’s summit has not been made public, experts predict that the Gulf crisis will not be a top priority.

They agree that the summit and Riyadh’s invitation to Qatar will subtly portray to the world that “the ball is now in Qatar’s court” – but it will likely not actively address the dispute.

This is why Qatar, which has no interest in presenting itself as being distant from the council, is sending a “lower delegation”, Zweiri said.

According to Zaccara, if the invitation was completely rejected, the blockading countries may have accused Qatar of lacking the will to “sit down and talk”.

“This [sending state ministers] will demonstrate that the Qatari government was never reluctant to engage in a direct dialogue,” he said.

Similarly, Jocelyn Sage Mitchell, assistant professor at Northwestern University in Qatar, believes that Qatar’s participation in the summit allowed the country to “maintain the high road” in the current diplomatic crisis.

It also offered Doha an opportunity to refute allegations that it is insufficiently supportive of its fellow Gulf monarchies, Mitchell said.

Earlier this month, Sheikh Tamim said he regretted the continuation of conflict with other Arab states, but said that the “crisis will pass“.

Apart from formalities, the GCC council maintains value as a “forum for economic coordination”, despite the body’s lack of political power, according to Mitchell.

“Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar gain something from continuing to participate in this organisation,” she told Al Jazeera, referencing the GCC-wide value added tax (VAT) project that was intended to assist Gulf states with budget deficits and as a way to increase non-oil revenues.

Saudi Arabia would like to see Qatar commit to implementing the VAT in 2019 as this would provide some political cover for Saudi Arabia’s financial need for this tax,” Mitchell explained.



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