This is not a new issue, but rather a seasonal one that we can discuss from different angels, such as that of Arab or Gulf unity, among others. Anybody who discussed this matter and has examined its details must be aware that any attempt to unify any two countries in the world represents a shocking and difficult endeavor, and history testifies that this is something that can only be achieved through military action.
There are only six Arab Gulf countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] and after thirty years they have failed to reach an agreement on consolidating the riyal, dinar, and dirham into a single currency, despite the ease of such an undertaking, and the similarity in the Arab Gulf economies. However despite the failure to institute a single currency, and other missteps, the GCC represents the most successful such institution in the region.
Dr. Abdullah al-Nafaisi shocked Gulf States by quoting a US study that said that only 2 Gulf countries will survive the next 15 years, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Nobody discussed this study, instead everybody focused upon its findings, and it is important that we be aware that such studies do not represent absolute facts. More importantly, political studies or analysis – regardless of who is writing this study or what institution is issuing it – remains nothing more than a study that must be open to discussion with an open mind. It is a huge mistake to try and transform politics into mathematics. In the West there are dozens of respectable institutions, and hundreds of competent Middle Eastern researchers, and they discuss and debate theories and conclusions put forward, therefore it would be a mistake to select one particular study and disregard all others.
Dozens of studies have been issued over the past 5 decades, all of which put forward a host of different predictions for the future of the Gulf region, many of which were proved to be completely wrong, from predictions of secession, to wars, to coups. For example an American scholar and researcher William Quandt published an entire book in the 1980s predicting the death of Saudi Arabia, while the RAND Corporation issued a study on the September 11 attacks that predicted a far more shocking fate for Saudi Arabia and Egypt than this. There are many similar examples, and each study represents one single analysis among a myriad of other analyses, some of which are contradictory.
More importantly, I think it wrong to intimidate Gulf States by saying “either you merge with Saudi Arabia or you will be devoured by Iran.” Such a statement might prompt these countries to adopt a defensive or isolationist stance, instead of thinking about their future in an open-minded manner. We must not underestimate any Gulf State, no matter how small, for they are amongst the oldest countries in the world despite their recent political independence and the newness of their institutions. These are states that survived troubled and turbulent centuries which saw the rise and fall of mighty empires in our region. More importantly, diversity is not necessarily a disadvantage, especially if there is harmony and agreement amongst the different neighboring countries. In fact, this is something that would be an advantage and in everybody’s best interests. If we look at Bahrain for example, we would see that while it is the smallest of the Gulf States, it is ruled by one of the most prestigious houses in the Arab region, more importantly Bahrain serves as a beacon of enlightenment and modernization for all Gulf States. If Bahrain was annexed to Saudi Arabia, it may not have been as successful in performing such a role due to the difference in nature between the two countries. Likewise, if the UAE merged with Oman, it may not have been able to pursue its modernizing and developmental path due to the difference in strategy and management between the two ruling regimes.
Al-Nafaisi is right to sound the alarm about the dangers facing the Gulf States; however we can face up to future threats in a manner that does not involve following the paths of annexations and unification, for closer cooperation among Gulf States will achieve greater results than unification. Many aspects of Gulf cooperation are failing today because the politicians are unable to appreciate the full magnitude of the positive impact this would have on their regimes and people. Needless to say, there are countries in the region and all around the world that are biding their time and waiting for an opportunity to pounce on these Gulf States. They view these states as being rich treasuries, and are waiting for the right moment to break in and rob them. After all, we live in a world that is full of villains and bandits.