GCC Rifts amid Arab Unrest: Wild Attempts at Gulf Hegemony, Swallowing a Bone……


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“Rumours suggest the Saudis have quietly threatened to seal their border with Qatar, the emirate’s sole land link to the outside world, as well as to close Saudi airspace to Qatar-bound flights………… .Qatar, meanwhile, has served as a haven for fugitives from Egypt, including hardened jihadist extremists as well as besuited Brotherhood politicians. Al Jazeera’s Arabic channels, demonised in Egypt to the point that staff in its independently run English-language division are being tried as terrorists, have become lonely pulpits for the Brotherhood. Al Jazeera’s star preacher, Yousef al-Qaradawi, rails against Arab regimes that he says were complicit in the “crimes” of Egypt’s coup leaders. Mr Qaradawi lives happily in Qatar. An explanatory joint statement from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE accused Qatar of breaching a pledge, made by Sheikh Tamim in November, to tone down such invective and “abide by the principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs”. Less officially they are said to be demanding the expulsion or extradition of Islamist exiles. On March 3rd a court in the UAE sentenced a Qatari doctor to seven years in prison for alleged conspiracy………………”

Tensions have always existed between the Gulf GCC countries, as they are expected when several states interact. It is silly to pretend otherwise. But the GCC potentates have always tried to pretend that there are no such tensions. The people, however, are smarter, people know better of course: at home we have always said that there are no secrets in Kuwait. That may also apply to the other Gulf states. Here is a summary of recent tensions that have surfaced, or resurfaced:

  • Qatar: Qataris are supposed to be the moderate ‘Wahhabis’, mostly. They have had long disputes with both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The past disputes with Bahrain have been over borders and territory. The disputes with the Al Saud princes have been more about politics. Don’t get me wrong: neither country is democratic. In fact none of the three are. The disputes have also been over relations with third parties (Iran, Egypt, Syria, Hezbollah, Gaza, Muslim Brotherhood) as well as about Qatari rebuffs of Saudi attempts at hegemony over the Gulf GCC states. The Qataris share a huge offshore natural gas field in the Persian Gulf with Iran, so their relations with the mullahs are mostly cordial. They have also adopted the role of financial and political supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, and this last one is what irks the Al Saud and Al Nahayan brothers now. The Qataris have given asylum to some Egyptian MB clerics and members, like Al Qaradawi, just as the Al Saud did in the 1950s and 1960s. No need to rehash the Saudi-instigated coup attempt in Qatar in the 1990s after which a group of senior Saudi intelligence officers were imprisoned in Qatar for many years. You can find something in one of my links below (or in my other GCC posts).
  • Bahrain has no dog in that specific fight but the regime obediently and subserviently follows the Al Saudi policies. The Saudi King can wake up tomorrow and issue a fatwa that it is Wednesday, and soon after a Bahrain decree will declare that, yes, tomorrow is Wednesday. Life is simple when you don’t have to decide for yourself, no?
  • Bahrain: they had some outstanding
    issues and claims with Iran under the Shahs, but that was finally
    settled with independence as an Arab state and the first election that
    followed. The country, however, has remained potentially politically
    volatile, with occasional domestic unrest related to strained ties
    between the rulers and those they ruled. At the peak of the Arab
    Uprisings which had reached Bahrain in 2011, the island (s) was invaded
    by forces from Saudi Arabia and some from the UAE. Presumably through an agreement with the ruling
    family, presumably. Yet dangling the perennial idea of an “Iranian threat” across the impenetrable armada of the U.S. Navy has served the rulers of Bahrain well with willing but naive American politicians. It has also changed the subject from democracy an equality to sectarianism. This has served the ruling family (and their elite tribal allies) with their Sunni population and around the Gulf.

  • UAE: They have had their own Saudi problems since before the seven emirates were joined. There are grievances over border territories usurped by Saudi Arabia. These problems occasionally emerge and create temporary tensions, as when the Saudis occasionally close border crossings and create a partial economic/trade blockade. The Emirates have had local Muslim Brotherhood -MB- activity for some time, but apparently the shaikhs and potentates were not aware of their extent until the recent two years. Especially when a bunch of academics from local universities came out in the open calling for political ‘reform’. They were summarily thrown in prison, their citizenship revoked (apparently it is a privilege bestowed not a birthright). Now, for more than a year UAE media have been focused on attacking the MB.
  • The UAE rulers are also reported to have heavily financed Egyptian groups opposed to the elected Mohammed Morsi government. I would not be surprised if Field Marshal Al Sisi appointed one of the Al Nahayan brothers (owners of the UAE) as one of his vice presidents and an Al Saud prince as his other vice president. Adly Mansour Al Zombie can be his real vice president. I am also only about three-quarters kidding.

  • Oman: I have often written here that Oman looks more across the seas: beyond the Gulf and across the Indian Ocean. They pay lip service to GCC integration and even less so to Arab affairs. Historically they have had footholds in East Africa (they ruled Zanzibar) and even toe-holds in India. They also have no use for the Wahhabi clerics who consider the faith of many Omanis some kind of heresy. In the worst of times Oman has managed to keep on good terms with the mullahs (oddly, they were also on very good terms with the Shah when he ruled Iran).

  • Kuwait: Has refused to officially and directly join the Saudi-UAE-Bahrain anti-Qatar circus. It is politically the most un-Saudi of the GCC (if you disregard some tribal links). It is politically the most complex of the GCC countries. There are certain checks and balances, although occasionally overlooked. There is a relatively old constitution of more than half a century that guarantees certain political and religious rights. There is also an active political life both in an elected legislature and also in private gatherings and in the outspoken media. It is the hardest Gulf place to control politically.
  • Kuwait was also the target of repeated Wahhabi military aggression and attempts at annexation. The last time was in 1920 when the Ikhwan, the Al Saud zealous militias, again sought to annex it to their new Kingdom without Magic. That invasion failed and I am quite thankful for that. As schoolchildren they used to take us on field trips to the Red Fort (in the Jahra oasis) where the last battle was fought. The old defensive wall around the old city was later torn down, a dumb (or maybe deliberate) mistake. Iraq also famously invaded in 1990 and Baathist forces were expelled by American forces in 1991. Iranian espionage networks have been arrested in the past. Memories are long along the Gulf.

  • Saudi Arabia: Need I say anymore? It is the source of most tensions along the Arab side of the Gulf. I am leaving Iraq and Iran out of this for now because they are not GCC, but all three together are quite a load. None of the three is a regional sweetheart by any standard. The Al Saud family seems to think the solution to their fears of the empowerment of their own people is to control more of their neighbors. In some cases it is like trying to swallow a bone: one can choke on it.

I attach here a few of my more recent posts on the Gulf GCC issues in case you have more time to waste:

Brotherhood of the GCC, Wahhabis of the GCC, Feuding Misfits of the GCC

GCC Summit in December: Auld Lang Syne and L’Internationale

Beggar Thy OPEC Neighbor: Oil and the Economics of Nuclear Programs

Gulf GCC Joint Police Force: DOA or WTF or BOTH?

Owning the GCC: What is in a Name? Burj WTF and Al Einstein

GCC Bestseller Book: Gulf Dynasties for Dummies, a Theory of Sustainable Looting