The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged gcc
Qatar and Egypt still at odds despite GCC reconciliation

David Kirkpatrick reports in the NYT:

CAIRO — Shaking hands and kissing foreheads, the monarchs of the Persian Gulf came together this month to declare that they had resolved an 18-month feud in order to unite against their twin enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.

But the split is still festering, most visibly here in the place where it broke out over the military ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president. “Nothing has changed — nothing, nothing,” said a senior Egyptian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential diplomacy.

. . . 

But government officials on both sides of the gulf split now acknowledge privately that Qatar scarcely budged. Instead, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates suspended their anti-Brotherhood campaign against Qatar because of the more urgent threats they saw gathering around them.

A senior Qatari official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the joint communiqué supporting Mr. Sisi’s road map was merely a “press release” that carried little significance.

“We will always support the population of Egypt,” the official said. Al Jazeera was “editorially independent,” he said, adding that the other states “should not create political issues just because a channel is broadcasting what is happening.”

Although Qatar asked some Brotherhood members to leave Doha because of their political activities, only 10 or fewer have done so, according to Brotherhood leaders and Qatari officials. “We have not asked them to leave in any way, and we have not bothered them in any way,” the official said.

So what's really happened here, then, is that the the part of the al-Saud family that was very critical of Qatar because of Egypt got overruled by the part that's more concerned about Iran and Daesh, Qatar agreed to reduce the media infighting in the Gulf and perhaps participate to some extent in Saudi Arabia's calls for greater economic and military unity, and Abu Dhabi had to accept it because Riyadh said so. But I doubt they'll even be able to keep the media wars at bay for that long, so maybe it's more simply that the Saudis are finally learning to prioritize and not pick fights with everyone at the same time.

Egypt's Good, Bad, and Ugly

Interesting argument by Hisham Hellyer in Foreign Policy, on what the outside world might do to nudge Egypt towards a resolution of its crisis:

Bilateral attempts by the United States to engage constructively with the Egyptian authorities do not have much hope of success in the short to medium term, and perhaps even in the long term. A multilateral one, however, may. An effort that involves the United States, as well as countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and European Union member states, may have a different outcome. The "War on Terror" paradigm the authorities are operating within is ultimately not a source of stabilization for the Egyptian state. The repercussions of it, as they intensify, have knock on effects on the economy and civil rights in Egypt. It will take a special kind of conglomerate of countries to constructively advise Egypt on these issues, without being ignored or dismissed.

Whether there are takers on the GCC side for this approach right now is dubious. But if/when Egypt's situation does not improve, they may change their mind.

AsidesThe Editorsgcc, egypt, us, europe
U.S. triples arms sales, mostly to GCC

U.S. Foreign Arms Sales Are Most of Global Market

Thom Shanker in NYT:

Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels.

These Gulf states do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defense systems.

Tripling of arms sales in 2011, with a good half of them going to the GCC. Under the administration of a president who received a Nobel peace prize partly in expectation of future work towards peace.

The childishness of Gulf geopolitics

The visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to the island of Abu Musa has caused quite a stir among the GCC states. Iran occupies the island (and other nearby ones) but the UAE says they were acquired by Iran illegally and belong to the Emirates. 

The picture on the right shows a Google Earth screengrab of football pitch built near an airport on Abu Musa. I guess the Iranians decided to send a message about the Gulf being theirs. One only wonders why they had to do so in English rather than, say, Farsi or Arabic.

[Thanks, PM]

Qatar, the GCC, and the Arab Uprisings

The Arab League’s deadline for Syria to stop the “bloody repression” has passed, paving the way for stronger action after the League’s surprisingly hardline stance towards the Assad regime. Jenifer Fenton looks at what is motivating the GCC states, most notably the one taking the lead in the new regional diplomacy, Qatar. 

Qatar, with its progressive foreign policy, is publicly driving the Gulf’s response to Syria and carving out a role for itself as a country that can quickly adapt to the sweeping changes resulting from the Arab spring, but the regional weight it carries and its motives are more nuanced. 

The six countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council  - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates - and the majority of Arab League member states agreed that there was a limit to the violence unleashed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad it could tolerate.  The United Nations puts the death toll since the unrest began at well over 3,500 people. Last week, the Arab League decided to suspend Syria’s participation and to impose political and economic sanctions against the Syrian government.  

The decision approved by 18 members, Lebanon and Yemen objected and Iraq abstained, was “a difficult one,” the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani said  .

Bilateral trade between Syria, whose GDP is $60 billion, and the Arab countries amounts to roughly $8 billion, according to Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Center.  But 40 percent of Syria’s non-oil trade is with Iraq so Iraq’s abstention is significant, he said. 

The Arab League decision was overdue. “It was the right one,” said Khalid Al-Dakhil, professor of political sociology at King Saud University. “They needed to not allow Syria to use the Arab cover to continue with its brutal crackdown on the Syrian people and the Syrian regime has to know that this must stop.”

The Arab body had to show they are decisive, that they do not just bark but bite also, according to Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a professor of political science at UAE University. But there is “no doubt in my mind… what is driving all this is the GCC, especially Qatar, especially the UAE. Saudi Arabia… are giving all the green lights Qatar needs at this moment. In essence, as I see it, Qatar is just speaking for Saudi Arabia which is usually a timid player. They don’t want to be in the front so Qatar is having all the backing from Riyadh.”

It is clear that visionary Qatar and the old order of Saudi Arabia do not always see eye-to-eye  (for years they had uneasy relations), but if Saudi Arabia actively challenged a Qatari foreign policy decision - which recently it does not appear to have done - it seems unlikely that Qatar would not heed Saudi Arabia’s wishes.

In late January, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was still in power, Saudi Arabia defended the status quo and strongly condemned the protests. “No Arab and Muslim human being can bear that some infiltrators… have infiltrated Egypt, to destabilize its security and stability and they have been exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction, intimidation, burning, looting and inciting a malicious sedition,” Saudi King Abdullah said at the time, according to the Saudi Press Agency. Tunisia’s deposed Zine El Abidine Ben Ali took refuge in the Kingdom as well. 

Compare Saudi’s actions to Qatar, which was the first Arab country to recognize the National Transitional Council as the legitimate government of Libya and it contributed planes to assist the Nato-led operation. 

While the GCC nations may not agree on aspects of foreign policy “at least there is minimum coordination,” Al-Dakhil said.  “I think there is a misperception about the Saudi position regarding Egypt or any of the Arab revolutions,” he added. “Basically Saudi Arabia is not different from the rest of the Arab states. They don’t like the idea of revolution, but at the same time they are pragmatic enough… They are willing to get along with what the Egyptian people want in Egypt. I mean if they want to make a revolution… that is their country, that is their right.” That sentiment Al-Dakhil believes is also the Saudi position with respect to Tunisia and Libya. 

Saudi Arabia is willing to accept the changes, but they are less willing to accept the unknown - so the Kingdom is taking a wait-and-see policy, while Qatar is getting out ahead. But by allowing Qatar to be the public face of the Gulf leadership, Saudi Arabia is also spared the negative repercussions and close scrutiny that publicity brings. 

However, Qatar’s grand vision is unclear. “Qatar is dancing on all floors to be able not miss the boat and make sure that they keep their link open to everybody whether they are Islamist, or liberal or conservative,” Sager said. It is also hard to reconcile Qatar’s physical size, it is smaller than Connecticut, and small national population, some 300,000 people, with such ambitious regional and international interests. A lot of people are questioning if Qatar is acting to a degree on behalf of an international agenda: with the United States with whom it is very close, or Iran with whom it shares economic interest, or Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries, Sager said.  It is certain though Qatar is “filling a gap also because other regional powers are not acting, they’re not moving for their own reasons.” Iran, Sager believes, wants to keep their link with Syria, but not necessarily al-Assad. Qatar also does not want to upset Iran because they know Iran has spheres of influence with other Arab countries, he added. So it is difficult to asses the Syria-Qatar-Iran dynamics with certainty.  

In Libya, Qatar even went ahead of the UAE. The Emirates, before contributing military power to Libya, wanted first to get Western assurances that the GGC’s deployment of troops in Bahrain would not be characterized by the West as a step in the wrong direction, according to retired UAE Maj. Gen. Khaled Abdullah Al-Buainnan whom I spoke to earlier this year. Qatar did not wait for that scaling back of Western condemnation. 

With respect to Bahrain, the GCC has been accused of a double standard - supporting the government against  an opposition that has legitimate grievances. Consistency is not a very common aspect of foreign policy, Rami Khouri, director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs said.  “The Saudis will act differently, the Qataris will act differently in Bahrain then they might in Libya…Foreign Policy is not an ethics based process, it is an interests based process,” he said.

Khouri agreed there is greater Gulf activism, which includes the dynamism of Qatar and the UAE, but thinks there are several different currents at work. “The Saudis are against these revolutions, they don’t like them. They don’t like populist revolutions,” Khouri said. What the Qataris are doing is hard to tell, perhaps the state is just giving into reality, he added. What is interesting is that popular opinion in the Arab world is now driving the response of the Arab governments, including the Gulf, and the Arab League realized that it was on the verge of being irrelevant, Khouri added. Some aspects of the Arab League’s work is starting to reflect a semblance of Arab opinion and the major world powers are not playing a major role, and in a weird way they are kind of following the lead of the Arab League, he added.  

However, public opinion in the Gulf is a bit of a mystery. But each leader in the region that falls acts an unnerving reminder to powers in the Gulf that their rule is not unquestionable. Right now it is about Syria, but “the winds of changes are banging on everyone’s door,” Abdullah said.  

Some thoughts on GCC enlargement

There's been a lot of ink spilled — and some pretty funny jokes — about the surprise announcement that Jordan and Morocco might join the GCC. I'll let someone else provide the Gulf logic for this move (see below) and follow that with some links to pieces looking at things from various angles. But first I want to talk about this generally and then from the specifically Moroccan perspective.

The GCC announcement appears to me first and foremost an economic and political stabilization package for two countries that are traditional security subcontractors to the GCC states as well as frequent recipients of their largesse — and which have similar political systems but are much more fragile because they are not insulated by wads of oil money. The Iran aspect has been trumpeted, but Morocco and Jordan were already on that bandwagon anyway, so I think it's secondary.

Jordan is nexus to Iraq and Israel/Palestine, with a largely characterless, corrupt and politically supine king. It shares with most Gulf countries a shallow sense of identity and political legitimacy, complicated by the Israeli-Arab conflict. Morocco is a more grounded place, far across the other side of Africa, but strong relations with the Gulf are rooted in these countries' conservative, pro-US (during the Cold War and after), anti-radical policies. I can get why Jordan, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia, might want to join the GCC. For Morocco the picture is much more divided.

On the one hand, Morocco is an energy-poor country that has in recent years received billions of aid (in dollars and in oil) from the Gulf. It is a source of immigration, of security (over 6,000 Moroccan troops are stationed in the UAE according to some estimates, and senior security officials have long provided their services to the emirs there) and diplomatic support (remember when Morocco unilaterally ended diplomatic relations with Iran?) Various people at the top of the regime have close relationships with senior Gulf princes — for instance former Moroccan FM Mohammed Benaissa has gone into business with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. There are even families ties: Moulay Hisham, the king's estranged cousin, is a cousin of al-Waleed Bin Talal because their fathers both married daughters of former Lebanese prime minister Ryad al-Solh.

On the other, the official reaction to the announcement in Morocco has been cautious and the public's reaction has been an either amused or angry "WTF?" Moroccans fundamentally see themselves as different, in their mores and culture, to the Khalijis. Jordanians have (for half the population) at least a shared Bedouin culture and the Hejazi connection (the Hashemites are originally from the Hejaz, the Western part of Saudi Arabia). But Moroccans feel only distant historic ties to the Gulf, and over half are Berbers who feel no tie at all. There has been no effort to prepare the public and sell it to them. It might represent, for many, a golden goose: prospects for easier emmigration to the Gulf. But it also stirs up feelings of resentment against Gulf haughtiness — only last summer there was a scandal over the Saudi perception of Moroccan women as loose (no doubt because there is a brisk prostitution business in the Gulf, with Moroccans among the few Arab women more easily found). And among the Moroccan elite, there is some contempt for uncouth and nouveau riche Khalijis, lacking Maghrebi refinement. 

I am usually all for regional integration, and the GCC is a relatively successful model for the region (although that's really because there are no other successes). Morocco could benefit economically from such an arrangement. But at a time when there is more pressure on the monarchy to reform than ever before, I cannot but help fear that some of the Gulf countries — notably Saudi Arabia — have an interest in not seeing any Arab monarchy evolve towards a real, democratic, constitutional monarchy. And that is a price too high to pay.

Also: Arabist reader J. Hammond writes in with this contribution:

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced  this week that Jordan and Morocco are likely to join the economic and political union of the six Gulf States. The sudden announcement has been widely seen as a "circle the wagons" move by a group of worried monarchs.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is seen by some as an European Union type organization in the making. Since the founding of the GCC in 1981, the group has pursued greater integration on a number of issues ranging from trade to football. The GCC is even pursuing a currency union.  A recent piece in the Jordan Times noted that:

"For decades, Jordanian skilled labour has worked in the GCC countries, contributing to their development. Over 350,000 Jordanians work there. They are highly appreciated for their competence and sought out to fill important positions." 

Both Morocco and Jordan are popular destinations for Gulf tourists. With Morocco and Jordan as full members, the population of the GCC would nearly double. But, unlike the European Union which formed from an economic agreement (the 1950s European Coal and Steel Community) the GCC was first founded as a defensive pact and has became increasingly economic in nature.

This wave of expansion shows that security remains an important part of GCC equation. Both Jordan and Morocco have long coordinated with the GCC on security issues. Jordan has sent 800 personnel to the Saudi-led GCC operation in Bahrain. Indeed, Jordan's military professionalism is well known throughout the region. Morocco has also not hesitated in coming to the aid of GCC countries in the past. The country sent 13,000 troops to assist coalition forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Secondly, like the Gulf monarchies, Morocco's relationship with Iran has been rocky.

The GCC move is a confident one. The Arab monarchies at present appear far more stable than their republican peers. For example, Qatar and the UAE have not seen any large protests throughout the ongoing "Arab Spring". Still, this expansion of the GCC implies that the fates of the Arab world's monarchies are intertwined. With Jordan and Morocco in the tent, all Arab world monarchies would be in one single, club of kings.

Extra links:

  • FT.com / Middle East & North Africa - Gulf states’ overtures delight Jordan
  • Morocco and Jordan ask to join GCC - The National
  • Elliott Abrams: Pressure Points » Blog Archive » The GCC: “Carefully Considered Reform” or Reactionary Politics?
  • GCC throws economic lifeline to Jordan, Morocco | GantDaily.com
  • Le Maroc invité à un club très fermé?
  • ANALYSIS-Arab dynasties lure Jordan, Morocco into anti-Iran bloc | News by Country | Reuters
  • Counterrevolution in the Gulf - By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen | Foreign Policy
  • gulfnews : Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf: An attempt to steal the show
  • AFP: Jordan, Morocco could boost GCC 'monarchy club'
  • Links for 10.14.09 to 10.18.09
    Is Obama giving up on democracy in Iran? | Because Haaretz really, really cares.
    'Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized' | Great pic on this FLC post.
    Al Jazeera English - Focus - Leadership 'let down' Palestinians | As`ad AbuKhalil.
    ANALYSIS / U.S. using Goldstone report to punish Netanyahu - Haaretz - Israel News | Ridiculous argument.
    Egypt: 29 years between a president and his heir | Bikya Masr | Ayman Nour on Mubarak's Egypt.
    Nationalism in the Gulf State | A LSE paper on GCC nationalism by Neil Partrick.
    In Morocco, editor imprisoned, court shutters paper - Committee to Protect Journalists | al-Michaal newspaper closed over articles on king's health. Also rumors of closing down of Le Journal, TBC.
    ei: EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago | "The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II."
    FT.com / UK - Storm over Egypt's Israeli links | On the Hala Mustafa / normalization debate.
    Citing Work Of Right-Wing Intern Spy, GOP Accuses Muslim Group Of Infiltrating Hill With Intern 'Spies' | TPMMuckraker | "Four House Republicans are charging that the Council on American Islamic Relations is infiltrating Capitol Hill with undercover interns, and they're basing the charge on a WND-published book that itself is based on the work of a man who posed as a Muslim to infiltrate CAIR as ... an intern!"
    Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | Helena Cobban profiles Israel operative Tom Dine.
    Brian Whitaker's blog | The son also rises | Seif Qadhafi gets put in charge of, well, almost everything.
    First Egyptian School Closes For Swine Flu - Daily News | Mere de Dieu girls' school -- a stone's throw from Arabist HQ -- closed.
    U.S. Iran plan is a bunker-busting bomb - thestar.com | That's not very nice.
    Links for 07.09.09 to 07.12.09
    Arab Reform Bulletin - Snapshot of the Economic Crisis | Intissar Fakir provides an overview of the state of economics in the Arab world in this special issue of ARB on the global economic crisis.
    The Crisis of Arab Masculinities « the long slumber | Interesting post from a cool blog I didn't know.
    Arab Reform Bulletin - The Current Crisis and Lessons of the 1980s | Steffen Hertog on how GCC countries learned from their 1980s recession and are handling the current crisis more easily.
    Dar Al Hayat - Ayoon Wa Azan (The Dreams of the American Empire are Over) | Jihad al-Khazen: "Iran is not a threat to the United States (and nor do I find it to be a threat to Israel). As such, any American who calls to launch a military attack on Iran and destroy Iranian nuclear plants is an Israeli-aligned Likudnik, who is betraying his country to the extent that he would sacrifice young American lives for the sake of a country run by fascists."
    Let's Welcome the Muslim Brotherhood! Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Interesting article discusses information revealed from raids on MB offices, notably on discussion on strategy, debate on whether to have a satellite TV station, and more.
    The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary | TIP's guide to pro-Israel advocacy. Contains gems like "Americans want a team to cheer for. Let the public know GOOD things about Israel" and "freezing settlements is ethnic cleansing".
    TelQuel : ENQUÊTE. Pourquoi et comment Hassan II a islamisé la société | "Why and how Hassan II Islamized society" - secular Moroccan mag looks at state policies of Islamization.