Can we understand the concerns of governments in the Gulf towards the Islamists sweeping the presidential and parliamentary elections in post-revolution Egypt and Tunisia, and the fear of this impacting on the situation in the Gulf? The answer is yes.
Does the solution lie in antagonizing the new post-revolution governments in direct and indirect ways, using the weapons of the media and possibly the economy, to counter the growing Islamist tide as a pre-emptive blow before its influence reaches the stable and prosperous Gulf nations? The answer is no.
Is there another way to accommodate these changes in the political arena in a manner that preserves the stability of the Gulf States whilst maintaining normal relations with the countries of the Arab Spring? The answer is certainly yes.
Are the Arab Gulf states made from a different fabric to that of the other Arab states that experienced revolutions? The answer is also yes, whatever is said about related ills and problems.
Yes the Gulf States, their people and governments, are right to worry about the changes that have emerged as a result of the Arab revolutions. The circumstances in the Gulf States do not match those of the Arab revolution states, and the nature of the relationship between the ruler and the ruled is certainly different. The Gulf States, even if they suffer some similar symptoms of disease, should not be treated by the same surgical procedures, nor should the same prescription be written for them. Here me must heed the familiar doctor’s warning; do not use treatments prescribed for another patient, even if you have the same symptoms. The people of the Gulf are refusing to universalize the “revolutions remedy” on their own states, or at least this is the conviction of the majority, where security and stability have become invaluable in the eyes of Gulf residents. They have realized the extremely dangerous and grave price of a revolution through what is happening in Syria, and the fragile security situation and weakness of the central government in Tunisia, Libya and even Yemen. This is something that countries where revolutions and political movements have taken place, whatever their orientation, must also take into account. Even if in some Gulf nations there are movements towards reform and urgent desires to bring about change in order to keep pace with new variables, it must be recognizes that these changes and reforms come within a Gulf framework, i.e. a policy of reforming the house from within with the minimum losses. Reform and repairs are important but it is not necessary to destroy the building itself and then rebuild it from scratch.
At the same time, the Gulf States must keep pace with the political changes that first sparked the revolutions with rationalism and realism, even if the Islamists came to power in the end. It is true that most Gulf governments, officially speaking, have left the door ajar to the Arab Spring states, and on the surface of their foreign policies towards them there is nothing to indicate a severance of diplomatic relations. However, some media outlets in the Gulf are clearly trying to strain relations with the countries of the Arab Spring, especially Egypt. This, in my judgment, is not in the interests of any party. The period in which the Gulf States’ relations with Egypt are going through now is akin to tender and malleable clay and it is a critical period. If neglected, irrational voices will have the last word, and the clay will be hardened in no one’s interests.
The disturbing thing is that there are certain loud, “popular, not official” voices that have chosen, in a convulsive manner, to open the doors of conflict with the Arab Spring governments. We can accept that this has no bearing on the political balance, but the media in some Gulf States is still cause for concern. These outlets should be helping to calm the situation, even if they do not like the arrival of Islamist rule. It is not the solution to take sides in the conflict between governments and their opposition, especially when these governments came to power in a democratic manner that was recognized around the world with fair and impartial elections.
The logic of politics dictates that it is always necessary to deal with those who come to power, even if by way of a coup. In the past the Gulf states have had to deal with the regimes of Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and at that time the Gulf media’s approach was conservative in a bid to clear the air with these states, with respect to the ideology of their rulers. It is essential to continue this approach with the new governments, whose leaders did not reach power on the back of a tank, but rather through the ballot box. After the majority of Egyptians voted in favor of the constitution, and after the weakness of the Egyptian opposition became clear, along with its inability to fight the Islamists when the will of the people has been invoked, it’s high time that we recognized the interests of the Gulf States and their strategic relationship with Egypt. This means the Gulf media must live with the Egyptian political reality and accept the will of its people, rather than what we want. At the very least, the media must deal with the new, popularly-elected governments in the same way as it dealt with the former regimes.