Will the GCC fall apart?

A meeting of the GCC countries is scheduled for December and decisions will need to be made on its future.

by
    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was founded in 1981 [Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters]
    The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was founded in 1981 [Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters]

    Thirty-six years ago, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was established primarily to enhance the collective security of its six Arab Gulf state members who feared the repercussions of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

    Five months into the blockade on Qatar imposed by three of its members (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain), the tragic irony is that this crisis strengthens Iran's status in the Middle East and also ushers in the imminent unravelling of the GCC as a meaningful organisation.

    This is further substantiated and exacerbated by the most recent Saudi Arabian move last Saturday to pressure the Lebanese government and endanger national cohesion by forcing the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who announced from Riyadh he was stepping down. An even bigger problem for Saudi Arabia and the UAE,  which have co-managed the war in Yemen and the blockade on Qatar, is that both moves have failed to achieve their objective.

    They have only strengthened the role and relationships of Iran in the Arab world, re-oriented political, military, and economic bilateral ties away from the intra-Gulf goals of the GCC, and badly damaged their reputation as reliable diplomatic or perhaps even commercial partners. The latest Saudi move in Lebanon, which seems aimed at weakening Iran by squeezing Hezbollah inside Lebanon, is likely to add to this litany of diplomatic missteps.

    The GCC will not formally be pronounced dead, because the make-believe world of collective Arab political action refuses to acknowledge hard realities, and instead basks in the soothing illusions of our fantasies. So the crisis that has been unleashed by the five-month-old siege of Qatar will more likely trigger a slow reconfiguration, rebranding, and relaunching of the entire GCC enterprise, rather than its sudden collapse or a formal declaration of its death.

    The truth, though, is that the GCC no longer exists as a collective security or developmental organisation, and perhaps never really did function in that capacity. The more troubling pattern that emerges these days is that Saudi Arabia wishes to lay down the law for all the Gulf states, who must submit to its leadership or suffer the same fate as Qatar: harsh economic sanctions and restrictions, along with veiled military threats and draconian but amateurish propaganda campaigns, designed to achieve either collapse and regime change internally, or swift acquiescence to Saudi Arabian rule in the region.

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    Kuwait has tried valiantly but without success to mediate in the Qatar-Saudi-Emirati dispute. Omani and Kuwaiti scholars I have consulted who have long studied the Gulf region say privately that their countries fear that they could be subjected to the same Saudi-Emirati bullying tactics that have been employed against Qatar.

    The emir of Kuwait warned two weeks ago that a prolonged crisis could trigger regional or international intervention that would destroy the GCC. "Nobody wants to be responsible for the death of the GCC," said Dr Mehran Kamrava, the director of the Center for Regional and International Studies at Georgetown University in Qatar.

    "The GCC will almost certainly survive this crisis, but in a less meaningful form than it has been up until now," he said in an interview in Doha last week.

    Many scenarios have been suggested for what happens next, including suspending Qatar's GCC membership until the feud is resolved, expelling it from the group, or creating a new grouping of Gulf and other Arab states, minus Qatar. This would acknowledge that the GCC has already effectively fractured into three groups.

    First, the Saudi-Emirati-Bahraini group uses threats, sanctions, and war to get its way. Second, the Omani-Kuwaiti group remains neutral in the current crisis, but worries about the consequences of the Saudi-Emirati-led assault on Qatar. Third is Qatar itself, whose future political, military, and economic relations will be vastly diffused and reoriented to include greater links with countries beyond the GCC. This has already happened with its rapid responses to offset the impact of the siege by forging closer ties with Turkey, Iran and other states.

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    The harsh nature of the siege moves against Qatar, and the corresponding nasty, condescending tone of Saudi-Emirati propaganda attacks make it very difficult for any Arab state to fully trust those governments to enter into meaningful agreements. Yet the modern history of the Arab region suggests that all these concerns will be politely papered over in favour of face-saving moves to show that we can forget and forgive the misdeeds of the past and carry on normal life as if nothing happened during the past five months. 

    The first test will be how the GCC states deal with the awkwardly-scheduled December GCC summit in Kuwait, which cannot convene in a normal fashion in the current situation.

    The six GCC member states are likely to find a temporary solution, such as postponing the summit or meeting at a level lower than heads of state in a Kuwaiti-hosted mediation because nobody today wants the GCC to collapse. Such a collapse would change a much wider set of military, economic, and political strategic relationships with non-Arab states by countries like Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Yemen, and perhaps even Jordan.

    The expanded Turkish military base in Qatar and significantly enhanced commercial trade with Iran hint at what could happen on a wider scale, if current trends persist. This would complement already advanced moves in Qatar to ensure self-sufficiency in food and other essential items, thus reducing links with neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

    That would signal the death of the noble dream of a GCC collective march to security and prosperity, which has not happened yet, but appears imminent. Without meaningful compromises and enforceable agreements to end the assault on Qatar and agree on new mechanisms for genuine collective security and well-being, the GCC is doomed. 

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


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