The idea that became the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) began in Kuwait. Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah debated establishing the council with Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi in 1970s. However, it was not until early 1980s that the GCC was created in Riyadh. At the time, sizable common interests and cultural and social commonalities, as well as the sheer magnitude of the challenges facing the six Arab Gulf states, motivated their leaders to establish the GCC.
The GCC has shown a special ability to overcome many of the regional crises and the serious challenges it has faced over more than three decades. Among these challenges were three major wars: The Iraq-Iran War, the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein and the war to liberate it, and the war that toppled Saddam in 2003. This is not to mention other challenges of no less importance.
Given the scale of the commonalities among the peoples of the Gulf, the interests shared by its states, and the sense of the looming danger everyone has, further integration to ensure greater effectiveness and influence must be a top priority.
Many are familiar with the sizable differences and the disparity in views on different issues among the member states. This is normal. None of the significant regional alliances created throughout history and across the globe would have succeeded without diplomats’ ability to find the formulas, mechanisms and visions needed to focus on things their members held in common.
Shared interests alone cannot make successful alliances. Alliances need both shared interests and shared fears, which all GCC states have, except one. This state, ever since the council was founded, has pursued a policy of keeping itself relatively separate and disagreed with the rest of the member states about several regional issues. Nevertheless, the GCC could deal with the policies and stances of this state. Perhaps it would be a good thing to try to understand the fears of this state as well as the reasons for it being different. Moreover, the GCC should deal with it through careful diplomacy in a bid to allay its fears and settle differences.
Apart from that country, all GCC members are unanimous in their distrust of the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which they think is hostile to them in one way or another. They agree that Iran is targeting them either through its direct occupation of some islands, as is the case with the UAE, stated ambitions and blatant interventions in their domestic affairs, as is the case with Bahrain, or by its intelligence and sabotage cells which engage in organized violence and bombings, as is the case with rest of the member states.
Iran is threatening the region through its schemes of expansion and hegemony in a number of Arab countries which are connected the Gulf states, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and the Gaza Strip in Palestine.
The countries of the GCC are the de facto leaders of the Arab world today, given that Iraq and Syria are no longer active players in the regional equation, having submitted to Iran. This is not to mention Egypt’s preoccupation with its domestic challenges. This remained true even after it removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power. The GCC’s leadership of the Arab world requires that its member states shoulder a heavy burden and grave responsibilities.
It is obvious that Saudi Arabia will carry the largest part of the burden and responsibility, given its regional and international significance. Riyadh has managed throughout its history to rise up to meet serious challenges.
It was a good thing for the GCC to consolidate relations with some Arab countries, such as Jordan, Morocco and Yemen. This step, however, needs more consolidation and expansion in order to build an effective regional alliance in a turbulent region.
Jordan and Yemen represent an important strategic depth for the Gulf states. Jordan has shown over the years that it is a reliable, trustworthy ally. Yemen represents a true source of strategic depth for the Gulf states. The GCC countries managed to provide Yemen with a plan to overcome the consequences of what used to be called “Arab Spring.” However, such a plan requires more care and attention. In fact, Yemen needs a plan similar to the Marshall Plan in order to rescue it from chaos and instability. By doing so, Yemen will be able to fight Iran’s interference and defeat Al-Qaeda, which still sees in Yemen as a sanctuary.
The success of the political process in Yemen is extremely important. By becoming a state that exercises full sovereignty over its territories and prevents any foreign infiltration, Yemen will boost the safety and power of the Gulf states in the region and world.
An example of the threat Al-Qaeda poses was illustrated by the footage broadcast by Yemeni state TV last week. The footage shows Al-Qaeda members bombing the entrance to the hospital adjoining the Defense Ministry and storming the building. It also shows how they murdered doctors, nurses, patients and visitors with extreme brutality using machine guns and grenades. By doing so, Al-Qaeda aims to keep Yemen unstable. Violent Islamist groups are doing the same in Syria. There, the most appalling crimes are committed and the Syrian people’s cause is distorted.
What is more dangerous than Al-Qaeda are the Islamist currents in the Gulf which justify terrorist crimes both directly and indirectly. In fact these currents should be targeted by an transnational Gulf police agency. According to articles 19 and 20 of the final statement of the GCC summit in Kuwait: “Ratifying the draft resolution for establishing the police force, the GCC Supreme Council stressed that the new body will boost security and help expand anti-terror co-operation and co-ordination among member states.”
In the meantime, the Gulf states are facing grave challenges no less serious than the ones they faced when the GCC was established. In a world where the international politics is highly unstable and unrest is rising across the region, the GCC needs to find more ways to cooperate, whether by becoming a fully integrated union or by developing more effective strategies that ensure greater influence in the region and the world. In all cases, there is an urgent need to lay new foundations for the GCC.