End of the GCC?
The new Saudi formula for Gulf ‘integration’ seems aimed at excluding dissident Oman and reaching out to non-Gulf monarchies Morocco and Jordan.
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By Abdel Bari Atwan

Senior officials in the Gulf are not in the habit of making off-the cuff comments to the media or publicly voicing personal opinions. Certainly not when it comes to matters of high strategy or sensitive political differences between the member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). This is frowned upon and considered unacceptable. When it happens, it is almost invariably because official circles, deliberately and in a calculated manner, want their thinking on the issues in question to be leaked  

This is evidently the case with the remarks made at the weekend by Bahraini minister Ghanem al-Bouaini to the Saudi-owned newspaper al-Hayat. He announced that the upcoming annual GCC summit in Manama would discuss the establishment of a Gulf Union (GU), as proposed by Saudi Arabia in late 1991. He said this would be a more ‘advanced’ variant of the GCC that was set up three and a half decades ago, and would usher in a phase of economic and political ‘integration‘ between the member-states rather than mere ‘cooperation’. He went on to affirm that the project could go ahead without the involvement of Oman.

In other words, the Manama summit is on course to lay down the foundation stone of this GU as an alternative to the GCC, and its membership will be confined to Saudi Arabia and the four other Gulf states – the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait –that joined its military coalition which is currently waging war in Yemen, with Oman excluded.

Oman publicly voiced its opposition to the proposed Union a few months after it was first proposed, in response to claims by Saudi spokesmen that all six GCC member-states were on board for the project. The country’s foreign minister, Yousef  Bin-Alwai, said at the time that it would not oppose the formation of the new body but would not itself be joining.

But there is more than meets the eye to the way the idea is now being revived five years after it was first suggested. 

Relations between Saudi Arabia and Oman are not in good shape. They took a sharp downturn when the Saudis awoke to the fact that Muscat had for six months hosted secret negotiations behind its back between Iran and the US – which eventually culminated in the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 powers.  The rift deepened when Oman opted to keep out of the war in Yemen and declined to take part in the ‘Decisive Storm’ operation that fired its opening shots.

For the past two decades or more, the Omanis have been pursuing an independent foreign policy course to the GCC while signalling their unhappiness about Saudi Arabia’s heavy-handed domination of the group.  They chose to adopt a neutral stance over the conflict in Syria and to keep their embassy in Damascus open when the other Gulf states all severed relations. Bin-Alawi paid an official visit to Syrian to meet his counterpart Walid al-Muallem and President Bashar al-Assad while Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were spending billions of dollars on funding the armed opposition to overthrow him and his regime. Oman has also made a point of preserving good relations with Iran. It refused to close its embassy in Tehran or recall its ambassador in line with the other GCC states after the Saudi embassy was stormed by demonstrators in protest at the execution of the leading Saudi Shii cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

Such behaviour clearly did not meet with the approval of the Saudi authorities. They were enraged. The state-sponsored Saudi electronic army was unleashed to subject Oman to a tirade of criticism on social media, accusing it among other things of smuggling weapons to the Houthis and their allies — Saudi Arabia’s foes in Yemen — including Iranian-made ballistic missiles (the charges were officially denied).

The Omanis, for their part, resent being expected to kowtow to the Saudis. They see theirs as a country of substance which differs fundamentally from the sheikhdoms of the Gulf, hub of a former empire with an ancient heritage whose political and cultural influence extended to East Africa, the Subcontinent and as far as Malaysia and Indonesia. Their merchants and envoys, along with their counterparts from neighbouring  Hadramout in Yemen, played a major role in introducing Islam to those parts. Their spirit of independence has been deepened by developments in recent years. Hence their rejection of a Gulf Union which would dilute the national identities and sovereignty of member-states, and their insistence on a formula of cooperation rather than integration between the GCC countries.

It is not known what the other GCC states really think about the GU idea. Only Bahrain, which is financially and politically dependent on Saudi Arabia, enthuses about it and publicly promotes it. Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar are a different matter. When the idea was proposed, they all either welcomed it in principle or kept quiet about it, without actually opposing it in order not to upset the Saudis. But if and when practical steps start being taken to put it into practice, their stances are bound to change. These countries all jealously guard their sovereignty in domestic affairs – hence the GCC’s failure to make much practical headway since its inception – and are loathe to become even more beholden to Saudi Arabia in foreign policy, especially after its bungled interventions in Syria and Yemen.

Nobody has explained details of what the proposed GU is supposed to entail, nor even begun addressing the many complexities that would be involved in setting up an EU-like structure in the Gulf.

All that can be concluded for now is that Saudi Arabia is minded to disengage from the Sultanate of Oman while drawing closer to the more reliable non-Gulf Arab monarchies of Morocco and Jordan.

If this were to happen, the Omanis may well be quietly relieved.

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3 تعليقات

  1. Morocco And Jordan are not that stupid. Unlike Saudi Arabia, they have a long history and culture, nurtured many civilizations (think about the Andalusian cities in Morocco, Fes, Meknes, etc, or Petra in Jordan) while Saudi is just a bunch of illiterate who think that just because they have money, they are entitled to everything. But the world is watching and the despise toward Saudis is becoming evident. tell me of a country who likes Saudi Arabia? There is none. No one will forget the way the dealt with the matter of Syrian refugees, leaving the whole burden to Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon. Even Morocco and Algeria have accepted tens of thousands of refugees, though not in UN refugees camps. But Saudi? They wanted to keep their money. Well they can keep it, and die with it.

  2. Without the hegemony and defense of the united states to the whole 6 countries of the Gulf, the GCC would have collapsed since long. Now it is about the time to work for collapsing Arabism and Islam as well.

  3. The issue that Jordan and Morocco are going to join the Gulf cooperation council ( GCC ) has been floating in the news since 2011. There were times when the Jordanians were dancing in the streets thinking that the days of rampant poverty and tumultuous unemployment days are behind them only to have a rude awaking months later with the only thing prevalent is the status quo. This issue also reminds me of Turkey joining the European union. There is so much being talked about over these two issues with neither one of them coming into fruition. Perhaps not now or any time soon. Saudi Arabia is going through so much changes lately, they don’t know exactly what to do. Falling oil prices, failed interventions in both Syria and Yemen, budget deficit. Criticism over being representative of the Sunni faith, raucous situation with Iran and Egypt. Some people even suggest a distension within the royal members of the ruling regime. In addition to the JASTA law that will put a real damper on their financial status. It seems to me that every time the Saudi feel that they are in hot water they go back and start rubbing shoulders with other Monarchies like Jordan and Morocco. Nevertheless, this time seems to be different and I doubt that they will find a pliable partner in Amman or in Rabat. Both countries have their own domestic issues and they are not willing to stick their neck out for just a fist full of dollars. They want much more than being Saudi lackeys. They want real recognition befitting to their sovereign status. Jordan managed to avert the so called Arab Spring and that by itself is a great achievement. Case in point the Saudis are in trouble and they just want more allies to stand by them or at least show some solidarity to their plight. I guess like the old adage suggests ” money is not everything”.

شروط التعليق:
التزام زوار "راي اليوم" بلياقات التفاعل مع المواد المنشورة ومواضيعها المطروحة، وعدم تناول الشخصيات والمقامات الدينية والدنيوية والكتّاب، بكلام جارح ونابِ ومشين، وعدم المساس بالشعوب والأعراق والإثنيات والأوطان بالسوء، وعلى ان يكون التعليق مختصرا بقدر الامكان.

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