By Wafa Alsayed, Research Analyst, Middle East
Gulf states have finally managed to sign a major security agreement, after Kuwait came on board last month at the 33rd Gulf Cooperation Council Summit, held in Bahrain. Kuwait resisted the collective security treaty when it was first introduced in 1994, deeming it incompatible with its constitution and unlikely to make it through its parliament. Its decision to swiftly ink the pact in private at December’s GCC summit may have been prompted by recent unrest back home. However it is also further fuelling a mood of insurrection in Kuwait recently.
In this latest post by one of the ‘Young Strategists’ attending the Manama Dialogue, Jean-Loup Samaan, a researcher for the NATO Defense College, looks at US engagement in the Gulf through the prism of a Cold War concept.
Although Syria was undoubtedly the biggest issue on the agenda of the 2012 Manama Dialogue, another one was in the air: the seeming erosion of US leadership in international affairs in general and in the Gulf in particular.
Despite Saudi Arabia’s push for it, a Gulf union was a ‘non-starter’ in the near future, Professor
F. Gregory Gause said this week at the IISS-US. In a speech entitled ‘Prospects for a Gulf Cooperation Council Union’, Gause was doubtful that all Gulf states shared the Saudi king’s vision of a closer Arab world. Even a smaller union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was unlikely, Gause, the chair of political science at the University of Vermont, suggested.
Gause noted that the proposal for a Gulf Union and the invitation to extend GCC membership to Morocco and Jordan were personal initiatives of Saudi’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who saw the Arab Spring as both a domestic threat and as a regional risk because of the potential for Iranian influence.
Saudi Arabia was interested in preserving its leading status in the region and the king saw himself as ‘the last dam against the spread of Iranian influence in the Arab world’. Other GCC member states were more concerned with the ensuing loss of sovereignty concomitant with greater integration. These states did not see Iran as a geopolitical threat and were more concerned with their domestic political conditions following the Arab Spring.
Gause said that a GCC union would have been better received in early 2011, right after the Arab Spring, as the GCC states tended to put aside differences in the face of an external threat. However, when threat perceptions were low, there was a greater emphasis on sovereignty and less incentive for cooperation. This proposal for a GCC union was a ‘hiccup’ that was not indicative of a fundamental change in GCC relations, Gause claimed.
Gause also said a union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia would be highly controversial, facing opposition from Bahraini Shi’a and the Iranians.
Despite democratic transformations in a few states, the problems that led to the Arab Spring largely remain unresolved, Dr Toby Dodge, IISS Consulting Senior Fellow for the Middle East, told an audience in Manama on 29 May 2012. In his talk, ‘Drivers of Instability: Reflections on the Arab Spring’, Dodge pointed to short- and medium-term factors such as rising food prices and demographic bulges, as well as the broader failed policies of Arab authoritarianism, as some of the causes of the Arab revolutions.
Yet unemployment remained high in the region more than one year after a street vendor in Tunisia set himself alight and a wave of protests began. Many of the youth who spearheaded the uprisings had not been integrated into post-revolutionary transitions.
Dodge said that several factors determined how each country fared during the uprisings. The outcome varied according to the state’s capacity to co-opt, repress or buy off protesters agitating for reform; the ruling elite’s cohesion; and the domestic opposition’s ability to sustain popular mobilisation.
Nearly two months have elapsed since the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) published a report into the unrest that shook this Persian Gulf archipelago last year. Its 513 pages laid bare the excessive use of force, systematic mistreatment, and culture of non-accountability, as the Bahraini government responded to a popular movement that challenged its grip on power. It also found no evidence of any Iranian involvement in the protests, thereby contradicting regime narratives that ascribed them to external intervention rather than domestic grievances. In response, King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, pledged to initiate reforms, and established a national commission to oversee their implementation. Yet the measures taken to date have left unaddressed many of the roots of Bahrain’s political and economic inequalities, and ongoing clashes between protesters and security forces have if anything, intensified. The result has been the empowerment of radical voices across the political spectrum and the marginalisation of Bahrain’s political middle ground.
Read the full article at openDemocracy