Friday, June 15, 2012

Are the GCC states planning closer ties?

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Over the years much has been said about the merits of closer unity between the countries of the Gulf Corporation Council (GCC)-Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE that was formed in 1981. However, in recent months the urgency amongst some member states to forge ahead with stronger political and fiscal ties has grown tremendously. In December 2012, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud at the GCC summit, called upon the member states to move from the phase of cooperation to the phase of ‘union' within a single entity. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have already taken steps to build strong military and economic relations between them.

Yet despite such developments, smaller member states like Oman and the UAE feel overtly threatened by Saudi Arabia and fear relinquishing certain aspects of their sovereignty to Riyadh. Earlier this month, Oman went far as rubbishing the whole idea of the union. Yousuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, the Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs said, "There is no Gulf Union."

No matter how hard some member states try to resist closer unity, there are many factors, which practically compel the GCC states to press ahead with unity and include:

1. Intellectual revival in the Muslim world

To the Arab masses-long before the present uprisings-the notion of nation statehood was in perpetual decline. More and more Arabs felt that their identity had less to do with the artificial states that were crafted as a consequence of the Sykes-Picot agreement in 1916, and more to do with the state of the Ummah. This notion of the Ummah draws its strength from Islamic legislative sources and the history of the region. For all intent and purposes it undermines the nation state model. Furthermore, it acts like a unifying force amongst Muslims of various backgrounds, and its political expressions are expressed in terms of the Caliphate and its foreign policy being jihad. The Arabs of the GCC are no different and also feel more affinity towards the Ummah than their respective countries. For instance, last week, Sheikh Ali al-Hikmi from the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, issued a fatwa forbidding jihad for Syria. He said, "The Syrian people are facing injustice, persecution and the force of an arrogant and haughty regime, and needs our prayers and help in every possible way. The support for the Syrian people should be in harmony with the country's policy. Everything is linked to a system and to the country's policies and no person should be allowed to disobey the guardian [Saudi Government] and call for jihad." Coinciding with the Saudi fatwa was another fatwa issued in Moscow that banned the term jihad and Caliphate to be used for political goals. The meeting attracted theologians from GCCs countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait andQatar. Islamic experts from Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon,Mauritania, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Turkey also attended the meeting. ("Islamic theologians ban to use terms jihad and khalifate in political goals", Interfax Online, May 29 2012). It is not then surprising to find the GCC countries participating in endeavours that prohibit the use of such terms, as these terms strengthen the narrative of the Ummah within their people and directly poses a serious threat to their existence.

2. New political challenges

The wind of political change is the second driving factor that is shaping the behaviour of GCC countries. The wellspring of revolutionary movements across the Arab world has unleashed a new set of demands for political reform. These reforms are diametrically opposed to the ruling elites that presides as archaic dictatorships and fiefdoms which dominate the Arab world. The revolt in Tunisia and the departure of the tyrants such Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gaddafi has sent shivers down the spines of the remaining the rulers. The gulf Arabs are not immune to such political upheavals experienced by their fellow brethren in the greater Arab world. Uprisings in Bahrain and Oman and skirmishes in Eastern Saudi Arabia are a portent reminder of how quick events can unfold and change the political landscape. To counter the revolutionary movement and to maintain the status quo, GCC member states have held several meetings and have even contemplated extending membership to Morocco and Jordan.

3. Regional security concerns

Lastly, the perceived threat of Iran, or more accurately put - the rise of the ‘Shia crescent' adds a strong military dimension to the unification efforts. The GCC states are extremely anxious about the demise of Sunni power in the region. Especially countries like Iraq and Lebanon. They are also petrified by the prospects of their own Shia populations revolting. The revolt of Shia's in Bahrain against King Hammad was a wakeup call for the gulf countries and in particular, their focus has been on the role of Iran in agitating Shia opposition. Hence in their efforts to curb Iranian influence, the collective military expenditure of the GCC has risen sharply in the past few years. Market intelligence firm Forecast International predicts: "a 14 per cent rise in spending over the next five years. At the national level, defence investment generally represents 10-20 per cent of total state expenditure annually. For 2010, Forecast estimates total GCC defence/security investment at $68.3 billion, expecting the total to increase to $73.4 billion in 2011 and continue growing to $82.5 billion by 2015" (David Hedengren, "Middle East defence spending will continue to rise", Your Middle East Online, October 18 2011).

It is the combination of the aforementioned factors that provides much of the impetus behind the latest unification drive and not ideological considerations. Additionally, given the political differences between states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is difficult to see how such a union will function without a singular political leadership. A quick glance at the EU's failure to address the Euro crisis, or speak with a single voice on foreign affairs, exposes the fallacy of proceeding with unification without political unity.

The only tried and tested model, for which many centuries provided sound unitary political leadership, security and prosperity to Muslims (irrespective of them being Arab or non-Arab) was the Caliphate. The Caliphate is not a union of countries or a federal state; rather it is a unique political system where the people elect a ruler to rule over them through the implementation of Shariah rules. It is only a matter of time before the despotic regimes of the Gulf will give way to the return of the Caliphate. The messenger of Allah (saw) said,"...and then there will be Khilafah upon the Prophetic method and he remained silent."

Abu Hashim

24 Rajab 1433


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