Friday, January 13, 2012

Unity Among Gulf Monocracies Doomed to Fail

By Ali Alyami

Threatened by developing domestic and regional challenges, the six autocratic Arab monarchs of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) huddled in the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 19 and 20, 2011, to strategize against internal and external threats to their regimes. Their fears were voiced by King Abdullah warning that “the security of Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors [meaning the ruling dynasties] was being targeted.” He implored the monarchs of the smaller Gulf States to ‘move beyond the stage of cooperation and into the stage of unity in a single entity’, which translates to a formal union dominated by the Saudi ruling family.

Prior to the Riyadh meeting and King Abdullah’s call for unity, the GCC had invited the two remaining autocratic Arab kings of Morocco and Jordan to join the GCC even though they are geographically distant from the Gulf. Indigenous analysts of Gulf dynamics and critics of the ruling dynasties speculated that the intent behind this move was to form a united front among these autocracies against the spread of the pro-democracy Arab Uprising. The GCC’s membership invitation has been shelved due to unfavorable public reaction, especially in the social media since public criticism of the ruling families is impermissible.

King Abdullah’s call for a united Arab Gulf States ‘in a single entity’, ostensibly to protect all GCC members from internal and external threats is destined to fail. Gulf Arab analysts attribute such failure to the fact that the primary objective of establishing a “single entity” is perceived by the smaller states’ rulers as an attempt to consolidate Saudi hegemony over the Gulf States and thus strengthen the Saudis’ bargaining position regionally, particularly regarding future settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, there are more compelling reasons why the “single entity’ proposal would fail.

Prominent among the reasons for the likely failure of the Saudi proposal is the historical mistrust of the Saudi royals among the ruling dynasties of the smaller and weaker Gulf States. Based on their historical experience, the overlords of these smaller Gulf Arab States consider the Saudi royals to be condescending, too rigid, heavy-handed, and confrontational. In addition, the rulers of the smaller States see the Saudi policies as a menace to their “live and let live” strategies, not only within their heterogeneous societies, but also with Iran, with whom they share borders and beneficial relations. The recent transition of power from the ailing and aging Saudi King Abdullah to two well-known pugnacious Princes, Naif and Salman, is more likely to lessen instead of increase cooperation, let alone create unity among the autocracies of the Gulf.

Furthermore, the ruling dynasties of the smaller Gulf States can afford to reject the ambitious Saudi plan to form a “single entity’ which they know would be dominated by the Saudi ruling family and its Wahhabi ideology. In the early 1990s, the West began to shift its military presence from Saudi Arabia to the smaller Gulf States; as time passed, the West found these rulers more responsive to Western needs than the Saudis. The gradual shift of Western dependence from the Saudi ruling family to the rulers of the smaller States has diminished Saudi influence in the region and has rendered obsolete the smaller Gulf States’ need for Saudi protection.

The efforts by the Saudis to recruit the kings of Morocco and Jordan to the GCC cartel in order to fend off the spread of the Arab Uprising to the Gulf have been unsuccessful. This and their apparent failure to unite the Gulf Arab States rulers “in a single entity” under their control are more likely to increase the Saudi rulers’ reliance on domestic oppression and intense use of religion to promote their self-interest. However, pursuing these policies will increase the Saudi people’s discontent, which will to domestic strife and regional isolation, eventually hastening the fall of the Saudi monarchy to the very forces they are trying to escape.

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