07.10.2022

Gulf Political Fragmentation

A year after the outbreak of the siege of Qatar, led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is almost dead.

This alliance was created by Khalid, King of Saudi Arabia, in May 1981 during the Iran-Iraq War to provide unity of power for the Gulf monarchs; The United States was their assistants in this. Nevertheless, although the alliance was not strong, such an alliance was a useful tool for coordinating policies and enhancing the influence of Saudi Arabia and the other five monarchies.

The decision announced on June 5, 2017 by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to break off relations with Qatar and impose a ban on trade in the emirates, came shortly after Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh last year, his first foreign visit to as president. Today it is unclear how many Saudis told the Americans about the plan of attack on Qatar and how the Trump team understood what they were told.

Residents of Saudi Arabia revealed the cards in a simple way: on May 28, 2017, 200 Saudis (descendants of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of an Islamic sect named after him) published a letter in a Saudi newspaper. The letter on the first page was addressed to the emir of an unnamed Gulf country, who accused him of not following the Wahhab truth and demanded that the name of the main mosque in his emirate be changed. Only in one Gulf state is there such a mosque, since Qatar is the only Wahhabi country in the world.

In fact, it was the removal from the church of Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. This religious exile contributed to a one-week political breakup. It is always much more difficult to resolve the issue of faith and religion than a political argument. Politics is malleable, religion is a doctrine.

This spring, one of the descendants of Wahhab Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al Sheikh became the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs. The ministry determines the content of prayers in state mosques, which is important for Wahhabi church institutions. Abdullatif is a protege and ally of Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabian prince.

The Prince Heir is the architect of the blockade of Qatar and is probably the key initiator of writing the letter. Political quarrels between Saudis and Qatar last for decades. Riyadh has long been outraged by Doha’s intention to pursue an independent foreign policy with a tendency to “put a finger in the Saudi eye.” The ambassadors were recalled, but the differences remained. The quarrels did not affect the work of the council and the holding of high-level meetings.

Tensions in the council showed an inequality of power among its members. Saudi residents have always believed that the council is more like a Warsaw Pact than NATO: an alliance governed by one capital rather than an aggregate of equals. The smaller Gulf states knew about this and resisted the steps of greater unity regarding military issues or a single currency, as they feared that Saudi domination would be inevitable. Collaboration and consultation, but not integration.

Prince Mohammed ruined the old way of doing things this way in council. Instead, there are now many camps in the monarchies. There is a camp in Saudi Arabia. The UAE is fighting hard to punish its political and economic rival, Qatar.

Abu Dhabi is a strong critic of Al Jazeera located in Doha. Bahrain is an even more zealous member as it has long-standing border disputes with Qatar, some of which are now being resumed. The state of most Shiites with a ruling Sunni minority family in Bahrain depends on the Saudi Armed Forces, which entered the country in the Arab spring, 2011, for its stability.

Kuwait is a partial member of the embargo. He did not destroy relations with Qatar last year, but calmly pursued a dispute, sometimes with the support of America. But Kuwait is heavily dependent on Saudi Arabia, especially after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. They follow the advice of Saudi Arabia in almost all matters, given the deep concerns about Iraqi irredentism and Iranian interference with its large Shiite population. Kuwait followed Saudi Arabia in a five-year economic assistance agreement for Jordan at the recent Mecca summit organized by King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud to strengthen the position of another Arab monarch in the Middle East.

Qatar itself. Since it houses the largest and certainly the most important US military base in the region, the headquarters of the central command, Qatar has a special relationship with Washington. He is very aggressively lobbying for his interests in the United States.

The blockade provoked a backlash in a tiny country. Apparently, Qatari citizens rallied for the emir. Qatari nationalism has become more pronounced than before.

Oman stands apart from the quarrels of its fellow monarchs. Sultan Qaboos has always been a distant figure and rarely attended council summits. His sultanate looks at South Asia as intently as it looks at the Middle East. Muscat refused to join the war led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, three years ago, when the rest of the alliance joined the Saudi coalition against Houthis. Oman maintains good relations with Iran and helps Qatar deal with the blockade.

Thus, the council today is destroyed more than ever. The Trump administration was not able to make a clear message. More importantly, it was ignored. Two state secretaries tried to eradicate the split, but to no avail. This is an extraordinary manifestation of American weakness and powerlessness.

It also means that the united Islamic front against Iran, which Trump welcomed last year in Riyadh, is defeated on the front line in the Persian Gulf. Given the US violation of the plan of action and the isolation of the United States from P5 + 1 in accordance with the nuclear agreement necessary to deter Iran, it is fragmented at both the regional and global levels.

The secretariat of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council still exists in Riyadh. Inter-Arab cold wars are never permanent, but alliances are built on trust. NATO survived the stupid war of George W. Bush in Iraq over confidence in America.

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