ISSN 2330-717X

Iran Viewpoint: The [Persian] Gulf Non-Cooperation Council – OpEd


By Mohyeddin Sajedi

Lack of a clear and coherent strategy coupled with the enforcement of personal policies are the biggest obstacle to the [Persian] Gulf Cooperation Council ([P]GCC) becoming an influential force in the Middle East.

The recent meeting of the members of the [P]GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, in the Saudi capital Riyadh was a complete fiasco on the path to the imagined union among the six countries.

Created on May 25, 1981, the [P]GCC comprised the Persian Gulf states whose regimes bore some similarity to Iran’s deposed Pahlavi regime, even more backward than that, and were worried about the influence of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The United States, in addition, wanted unity among Iran’s southern neighbors in a bid to confront the newly-founded Islamic Republic. The council’s first move against Iran was an active participation in the Iraq war with Iran (1980-88) through military, intelligence and security aids.

Over the 30 years of its life, the council has failed to forge a single successful agreement reached by its members, and has not been successful in developing a joint security force under a unified military command.

What is referred to as the “Peninsula Shield” failed to resist even for a single day against Saddam Hussain’s invasion of Kuwait (a member of the council).

Shortage of manpower, military expertise and the necessary know-how to operate advanced military equipment annually bought from the West compelled the [P]GCC to depend solely on the US army to liberate Kuwait. Even the move by Syria and Egypt to join the council and the formation of the 6+2 group was not enough guarantee for the withdrawal of Saddam’s forces.

The council has also failed in the introduction of a common currency and customs agreement. Attempts to adopt a common monetary policy ridiculously failed because both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi insisted on hosting the [P]GCC central bank.

Last year, in an attempt to counter the awakening of the Arab nations, the [P]GCC abruptly requested that the two countries of Morocco and Jordan join it. The only thing shared by the two countries is their monarchic regimes, which provides common ground with the other members of the council. However, Morocco and Jordan had no territorial links with the member states of the council. The plan vanished into thin air as abruptly as it emerged in the first place. On the contrary, the Moroccans and the Jordanians welcomed the plan substantially in the hope that their membership in the council would serve to settle their financial woes. As the plan failed, it was agreed for USD 5 billion to be paid to the two countries, a plan which also failed to materialize.

Later, it became known that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had personally proposed the plan in a bid to form a unified front of Arab monarchies, which considered the funneling of funds into societies and not the democratization of them as the only means to counter popular demands.

After the Bahraini crisis worsened and it became evident that this country’s regime is incapable of offering a solution that satisfies its people, the Saudi king initially dispatched a part of his army to Bahrain to support the Manama ruling establishment. The pressure by Riyadh on the other [P]GCC members for cooperation in this plan only resulted in the deployment of 500 UAE police forces, while Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman refused to be a part of it.

The Saudi king’s next step was to propose the “Union” to replace the current “Council”. The Saudi media and the so-called research centers in this country immediately began their propaganda in praise of this plan and set the European Union (EU) as their role model. It was clear that the EU had not been formed with a top-bottom decision and the demand of one member being imposed upon the others. The economic ground for the EU was paved by years of joint marketing in Europe and then the Maastricht and Copenhagen Treaties defined the union’s framework.

The only common thread in the [P]GCC is the joint tribal roots of the ruling families. The problem of border conflicts still remains unsolved among its members and all efforts for customs and monetary unity have reached a dead-end. Their political regimes are some kind of underdeveloped kingdoms, some of which have not even had elections.

All of the Saudi king’s efforts are directed at turning the [P]GCC into a firm fortress ruled by himself so he can withstand the present storm. This is where the problem begins. The UAE and Qatar no longer see themselves as weak and do not want their independence overshadowed by Saudi Arabia, who was once seen as their elder brother. The UAE emir did not even participate in the [P]GCC meeting in Riyadh, thus politely showing his opposition and reluctance. The head of Kuwait’s parliament voiced concern that his county’s democracy will be compromised if it joins Saudi Arabia. As for Qatar, the most it will agree to will be an economic union rather than a political one. Oman has its own problems and prefers not to enter a new circumstance which will disturb its impartiality.

That only leaves Bahrain, which is the most eager of all to join Saudi Arabia, solely because it cannot solve its own problems on its own and quell the popular protests. The biggest opposition to Bahrain merging with Saudi Arabi is the Bahraini people, whose prominent political groups have called for a referendum on the plan, which is all but impossible.

The big problem from Saudi Arabia’s perspective is that, out of the half-a-million native population of Bahrain, close to 70 percent is Shia. The majority of the population in Saudi Arabia is Sunni. Should these countries merge, the Bahraini Shias will no longer hold the majority. Unfortunately, it seems as if the basis for the Saudi and Bahraini assessments is this very sectarian outlook.

Mohyeddin Sajedi is a prominent Iranian political analyst, Mohyeddin Sajedi writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.

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