LINDA S. HEARD
Families fall out with each other all the time, but very often the ties of blood prevail. On the occasions they don’t, it’s a “lose-lose situation” for all. The same could be said for the spat between certain Gulf Cooperation Council states (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain) and Qatar resulting in the shock withdrawal of ambassadors.
That’s all in the past now thanks to the determination of the rulers involved to mend fences. It was undoubtedly the right decision. United we stand, divided we fall, is not just some quaint old saying; it has its basis in truth. That’s why nations in Europe, Southeast Asia and South America have formed economic, military and diplomatic blocs affording strength and mutual benefits in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Gulf countries may be sovereign countries but tribal ties go beyond borders. Many of the larger tribes are scattered throughout the Gulf region and, besides, this is not an era that lends itself to rancorous splits between neighbors, thus playing into the hands of those who would divide and rule.
There is, without doubt, a healthy spirit of competition between Gulf states vis-à-vis the economy, influence on the world’s state, standards of living and a race to see which country can build the most spectacular infrastructure or is nominated to host world-class sporting events. But on the macro level, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies face the same threats from extremist ideologies, the so-called Islamic State (Daesh) — that controls major swathes of Iraq and Syria — and Iran, which uses proxy militias and subservient governments to dominate parts of the Arab world. It’s no exaggeration to say that the current talks between Tehran and world powers over Iran’s nuclear capabilities could bring about a greater détente in the long run. At the very least that would empower the Iranians in many different spheres, perhaps to the detriment of regional Sunni states — especially if, the US seals a behind-the-door geopolitical “Grand Bargain” with the ayatollahs in Qom, as some in the area fear at a time when American foreign policy is pivoting eastwards.
Moreover, Arab oil has lost some of its gloss for Washington that’s succeeded not only in being energy self-sufficient but is also exporting and is set to the world’s number one producer of oil next year. This fact alone, negatively impacts the bargaining chips that oil-producing Arab countries have wielded since oil was discovered within the region in the early years of the 20th Century.
To sum up the above points, Sunni states can no longer trust the superpower’s intentions. And let’s be frank, US interventions over the last decade, waged ostensibly to eradicate terrorists or to impose democratic systems, while military successes, have turned out to be ill thought out with regards to consequences. They’ve rather spawned sectarianism and terrorism, which, in turn, have forced some governments to shelve budding democratic practices in favor of security measures.
Slowly but surely, a de facto Sunni Arab bloc is in the process of being created. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt, all see eye-to-eye on issues of national security and all are committed to furthering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Bringing Qatar into the fold would be a wise step. The relationship between Doha and Cairo remains fraught but, in recent days, there’s been a sea change in the willingness of both parties to find common ground. President El-Sissi is reportedly contemplating pardoning convicted Al-Jazeera reporters. For his part, the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani has tentatively reached out to the Egyptian government and, by all accounts, has pledged his support for the new Egyptian order.
The idea of Arab unity that was hitherto deemed a near impossibility is the only sensible way forward. In a world where the unthinkable occurs daily, old paradigms are no longer feasible — and it appears that the GCC has finally woken-up to that reality. Being mulled is a military pact between the Kingdom, the UAE, Kuwait and Egypt, which boasts the largest armed forces in Africa and the Middle East. Also being considered is a joint force tasked with interceding in hot spots before they erupt into conflagrations. The advanced weaponry and intelligence gathering capabilities of Gulf countries partnered with Egypt’s navy and air force would, indeed, be a force to be reckoned with.