Nothing new in the Gulf - ZEKERIYA KURŞUN

Nothing new in the Gulf

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Summit was held Sunday, Dec. 8, in Riyadh under the shadow of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, the Qatar blockade which has been ongoing since June 2017, and the Yemen War in which millions are facing death. Despite being invited, Qatar attended with a delegation led by the foreign minister, instead of participating at the emirate level. The summit, which Omani Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said did not attend due to his illness, and Kuwait's emir, who thinks differently to the blockade countries with respect to the Qatar crisis, was not active in contrast to last year but dim. The stage was largely left to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which are insistent on continuing the blockade against Qatar, and partners of the Yemen War.

Does the GCC have a future?

This picture led to the question of whether the GCC has a future.

The GCC was first founded in 1981 upon the Kuwait emir's suggestion as a result of the Iran threat perception that started after the Iranian Revolution, and the physical attack on Kuwait's oil ships. The objective behind the GCC's founding was to develop military and defense cooperation against foreign threats, and to draw a joint road map for the development of Gulf countries.

It was believed that the GCC, which is more homogenous and has specific aims and richer means compared to the Arab Union that has been around since World War II, and the Magreb Union that was established in 1989, could be a model cooperation organization. However, looking at the results of the 39 summits held to date, it has been revealed that the GCC is no different to the Arab Union Organization that has not been able to produce solutions to any problem of the Arab world.

Developing cooperation in the defense field aside, they have been countries that constantly armed themselves in competition and produced threats against one another since 1981. Even Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE, which are said to be in solidarity with one another these days and, according to the UAE's claim, that are said to have formed a military cooperation independent of the GCC, were individually in an armament race until the recent years. Just as they could not save Kuwait from invasion, despite offering support to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they staged a failed coup attempt in 1996 against former Qatar Emir Hamad, who acted independently. The blockade on Qatar, which led to difference of opinion among them, is the icing on the cake.

Economic cooperation, which is among the council's objectives, could not be realized either. Just as they could not ensure a customs union among themselves, they could not join their currencies either. While every country continues to use their own currency, despite having similar production types and economic structures, they could not ensure equality in the exchange rates and union in banking.. Though Gulf countries have provided the opportunity for the citizens of their countries to enter without a passport at their borders, they are yet to form a joint identity card.

Relations with Iran

All these prove that the council is an artificial union developed solely with the perception of the Iranian threat. Despite this, the GCC has not been able to determine any roadmap in the future of relations with Iran, which have become tense from time to time since 1981. On the contrary, these tensions led Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to apply heavy pressures on their own Shiite citizens. The Shiites who have felt and experienced pressure lost their sense of belonging toward their passport countries. Yet, Qatar and the UAE, which have no Shiite population, have continued their relations with Iran more actively, despite the GCC's threat perception. The UAE in particular never severed trade and business relations with Iran. Despite the border problems over the islands, its most important trade partner today, as it has been in the past, is Iran. Due to following the Ibadi sect, Oman has always been the "other" of the GCC, and it has also developed special relations with Iran, which are still ongoing.

What does history say?

In brief, the GCC countries are continuing the traditional tribal competitions they took over from the past among them since the founding of the organization. Even though they united on a foreign threat perception, they failed to turn this in to an advantage. Some countries that have been supporting the U.S.'s Iran policies since 2017, and have, as a matter of fact, given bribes by getting weapons from the U.S., are trying to continue their union by creating an enemy like Qatar. However, in the policy against Qatar, the future of the GCC, which is deprived of Kuwait and Oman's support, is also open to debate now.

Let us end this article with a quote from a historic incident in the documents among the Brit's India Office collections - of which we also have a copy:

In the border debates between the emirs of Qatar and Abu Dhabi, both sides were attacking and harming one another. Writing a letter to Abu Dhabi Emir Zayed on Sept. 20, 1892, in the name of Sultan Abdulhamid II, Persia's Basrah governor demands that they "end the conflict among them to stop shedding Muslim blood in vain." The governor, who also reminds that this is the command of the Quran, states that ending the conflict is also a demand of the caliph, who is also the emir of Muslims.

What do you think happened?

Shaykh Zayed sends the letter directly to Colonel Rass, the British consulate in the Gulf and asks what to do and how to respond to the governor.

To cut a long story short, nothing has changed in the Gulf.

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