The Con­fed­er­a­tion Ques­tion

Some Arab lead­ers of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC) may not find the idea of a cen­tral au­thor­ity very ap­peal­ing but hav­ing a strong pres­ence on the world stage is an in­cen­tive at­trac­tive enough for the GCC to move ahead with the pro­posal for a con­fed

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By Ta­hera Sa­jid The writer is a free­lance colum­nist based in Mas­sachusetts, U.S.A. Her writ­ings and vol­un­teer work fo­cus ex­ten­sively on so­cio-eco­nomic is­sues, in­ter­faith di­a­logue and U.S.-Mus­lim re­la­tions post-9/11.

The Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil (GCC), for­mally known as the Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG), is an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal union of six Arab states, in­clud­ing Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE), Oman and Bahrain. Th­ese states are also mem­bers of the Arab League while the first four hold the mem­ber­ship of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of the Pe­tro­leum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries (OPEC) as well. The GCC was cre­ated in 1981 in Riyadh in Saudi Ara­bia with the ob­jec­tive to en­hance co­op­er­a­tion and con­nec­tion among the oil-rich Gulf States and to bol­ster re­gional de­fense in the face of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal chal­lenges.

In 2012, Saudi Ara­bia came up with the pro­posal for the for­ma­tion of a closer union in re­sponse to the Arab up­ris­ings and what was seen as Iran’s grow­ing threat – an at­tempt to re­de­fine and re­new its com­mit­ment to the re­gion. Saudi King Ab­dul­lah cau­tioned about “the chal­lenges that re­quire vig­i­lance and a united stance.” At the time, the orig­i­nal six agreed to dis­cuss and eval­u­ate the pro­posal later be­cause the idea of a con­fed­er­a­tion was dif­fi­cult to grasp for the Arab mon­archs. It is ev­i­dent from the com­ment of po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Jo­hann We­ick, who writes in his an­a­lyt­i­cal piece ‘GCC States Re­main Split over EU-Style Union’: “EU, one law, one strong and unchecked power ca­pa­ble to leg­is­late, to ex­e­cute and to en­force its will on your coun­try, even if your gov­ern­ment says no?”

How­ever, faced with greater un­cer­tainty and shift­ing al­liances, the need for pre­sent­ing a united front in the form of a con­fed­er­a­tion has be­came an ur­gent is­sue. The idea of a ‘united stance’ also makes eco­nomic sense. De­spite its sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to ris­ing con­flicts, the Gulf has some of the fastest grow­ing economies in the world due to the vast oil and nat­u­ral gas re­serves. The re­gional funds of the GCC coun­tries are worth bil­lions of dol­lars. A pro­posal for a joint cur­rency named ‘Khaleeji’ has also been pro­posed, but not with­out re­sis­tance from Oman and the UAE who ob­ject to the des­ig­nated lo­ca­tion – Riyadh - of the cen­tral bank. If ma­te­ri­al­ized, Khaleeji would be the sec­ond largest in­ter­na­tional mon­e­tary unit in the world.

The GCC has fared well for over three decades be­cause of the some­what sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal, re­li­gious and cul­tural iden­ti­ties of its mem­bers. Yet, in­ter­nal is­sues con­tinue to bring forth new chal­lenges. As the GCC seems poised to ac­cept Jor­dan and

Morocco into its fold, Qatar has al­ways pur­sued its own for­eign pol­icy, many times in con­flict with the wishes of the rest of the mem­bers. Its support for the Mus­lim Brother­hood in Egypt, a group other mem­bers view with sus­pi­cion, has caused se­ri­ous con­cern in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In re­ac­tion to this clear vi­o­la­tion of GCC pol­icy of non­in­ter­fer­ence, Saudi Ara­bia, the UAE and Bahrain with­drew their am­bas­sadors from Qatar early this year.

This sit­u­a­tion un­der­lines the need for mem­ber states to con­sider care­fully who they ac­cept into the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Ex­tend­ing the GCC mem­ber­ship to Jor­dan and Morocco to form a con­fed­er­a­tion would help strengthen eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion among the Gulf States. Both coun­tries en­joy good global stand­ing and their ad­di­tion to the GCC would bring more au­thor­ity and cred­i­bil­ity to the group­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, while of­fer­ing strate­gic and po­lit­i­cal depth. Morocco has never pre­vi­ously shown in­ter­est in be­com­ing a part of the GCC, but Jor­dan has ap­plied for mem­ber­ship twice – in the 1980s and in 1996 – and was re­jected both times. Un­der­stand­ably, the Saudi Monarch, King Ab­dul­lah’s invitation has been re­ceived with much en­thu­si­asm. Jor­dan’s econ­omy is largely de­pen­dent on ex­ter­nal aid and GCC mem­ber­ship prom­ises gen­er­ous re­wards in aid and in­vest­ment. In re­turn, Jor­dan would be a valu­able mem­ber to the GCC, of­fer­ing se­cu­rity support through its mil­i­tary, po­lice and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices.

The GCC’s pro­posal for a Joint Mil­i­tary Com­mand with Jor­dan and Morocco, aims to ef­fec­tively man­age the re­gion’s in­ter­nal is­sues of vi­o­lence and in­se­cu­rity as well as to dis­cour­age ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tion. Mil­i­tary an­a­lyst Matthew Hedges writes that aside from the ob­vi­ous rea­sons and close­ness of th­ese two coun­tries, “the Jor­da­nian armed forces are the most pro­fes­sional mil­i­tary force in the Arab world while the Moroc­can mil­i­tary has been in­volved in se­cu­rity train­ing op­er­a­tions across the GCC with many gov­ern­ments and have a long his­tory of co­op­er­a­tion.” Ac­cord­ing to a re­port of the Saudi For­eign Min­istry, the Joint Mil­i­tary Com­mand would have up to 100,000 troops un­der the Coun­cil, a sub­stan­tial num­ber of which will be from the two coun­tries in ex­change for sub­stan­tial fi­nan­cial support to their economies.

Apart from Jor­dan and Morocco, another coun­try that has long as­pired to join the GCC is Ye­men, but sev­eral fac­tors have hin­dered a pos­i­tive re­sponse to its re­quests. The in­sta­bil­ity and un­rest Ye­men has seen over the years, the grow­ing in­flu­ence of Al-Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP), Ye­men’s support for the 1990 in­va­sion of Kuwait by Iraq, in­ter­nal cor­rup­tion re­sult­ing in mis­man­age­ment of re­sources and for­eign aid, low lit­er­acy, high un­em­ploy­ment rate, ex­treme poverty, ex­ten­sive food in­se­cu­rity and wa­ter short­age etc., all con­trib­ute to the chal­lenge the GCC mem­bers see in Ye­men’s in­clu­sion in the al­liance. The Shi’ite rebels in the coun­try’s ar­eas bor­der­ing Saudi Ara­bia, al­legedly re­ceiv­ing support from Iran, have also been of se­ri­ous con­cern for the Gulf mem­bers and pro­vide the GCC enough rea­son not to open its doors to Ye­men.

De­spite their ap­pre­hen­sions, the GCC mem­bers do not plan to aban­don Ye­men, and are con­stantly ex­plor­ing ways and means to support its de­vel­op­ment and se­cu­rity con­cerns. Saudi Ara­bia pledged $1.25 bil­lion to Ye­men in the af­ter­math of the Arab Spring. This was in ad­di­tion to sig­nif­i­cant mon­e­tary and mil­i­tary support from other GCC mem­bers. A GCC of­fice was also opened in Sana’a in Oc­to­ber 2012 to ex­plore op­tions of ef­fec­tive aid dis­burse­ment as a show of the GCC’s com­mit­ment to re­gional se­cu­rity and de­vel­op­ment.

To its credit, Ye­men has tra­di­tion­ally pro­vided a ready sup­ply of low-skilled work­ers for Arab coun­tries while its strate­gic lo­ca­tion pro­vides a link to the Suez Canal that could be a safer route for the oil-ex­port­ing GCC coun­tries. The GCC rec­og­nizes the fact that pro­vid­ing support to Ye­men for its eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment as well as for a peace­ful po­lit­i­cal tran­si­tion is di­rectly linked to re­gional and global peace and se­cu­rity, and re­mains com­mit­ted to step­ping in if needed.

The Gulf States have much in common and the idea of a con­fed­er­a­tion might work well, even if an EU-style union is not im­me­di­ately pos­si­ble be­cause of the in­her­ent au­thor­i­tar­ian character of the Arab world. The ben­e­fits of find­ing a uni­fied voice in the global arena might soon tip the scale in its fa­vor, how­ever. The far-reach­ing im­pli­ca­tions of go­ing for­ward with the pro­posal and adding new mem­bers re­quire not only thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion but also a strong com­mit­ment based on re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions.

Bahrain

Kuwait

Oman

Qatar

Saudi Ara­bia

UAE

Jor­dan

Morocco

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