Gulf States Seek to Manage the Arab Spring

Article Summary
The countries of the GCC have movstepped to center stage as they seek to direct the course of the Arab Spring, writes Fares al-Khattab. While they supported NATO intervention in Libya and are now wholly absorbed in attempts to topple the Syrian regime, they have also been quick to help friendly regimes stifle dissent in numerous other countries.

The recent events and those still occurring in some Arab countries have created a role for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, countries that may not have been overly visible in either backing or containing what came to be known as the Arab Spring. It may also be of note that these GCC countries have long been viewed by the Arab populace as rich in oil but weak in ability and dependent upon foreign forces to protect their skies and lands while fearing revolution. This drove some revolutionary political parties and movements in the 1960s and 1970s to describe them as “reactionary” states — a description that has always bothered the politicians in these countries. Now, these states have come to play a leading role, bordering on incitement and intervention in the affairs of great Arab countries that, until very recently, had represented a moral and material barrier that could not be breached, and in whose affairs one did not meddle. Suddenly, in what seemed like a choreographed move, the Gulf states abandoned diplomacy as a means of calming events whose origins remain so far unclear. Instead, they began actively participating militarily, economically and through the media in efforts to overthrow the regimes and lead the protest movements within these countries. It is the dramatic and painful results of this change in policy that we are now witnessing. The GCC states did not stop at using money and the media to achieve their aims, but went so far as to become part of international overt and covert alliances with the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey and NATO, as well as employing and exploiting the Arab League and other Arab organizations to further their agendas.

The Gulf states are now single-mindedly focused on toppling the Syrian regime, and to this end they are utilizing their influence in all Arab and international political bodies. As such, any attempt by the Syrian regime to adopt reforms is viewed by the Gulf states as an attempt to buy time before regaining the advantage, depriving the opposition of any opportunity to use the blood of fallen Syrians to achieve its primary objective of toppling the Assad regime, once and for all. This objective is now of strategic importance as a prelude to the second, regional goal of striking Iran — either by air or possibly on land — and strangling Hezbollah in Lebanon. In this sense, the issue of Syria is important to the Gulf states because of its connection to a possible strike against Iran. But assuming that such a strike does not come to pass and the Syrian regime succeeds in maintaining its grip on power, what would the Gulf states’ stance toward such a pivotal country as Syria be, having lost — as a result of strategic shortsightedness — another pivotal and even more important country like Iraq? The loss of Iraq occurred when Gulf states assisted in the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime without really taking into account that Iran’s influence in the region would expand once the barrier of Iraq had been removed.

With no forewarning, the Gulf states decided to contribute to the air strikes against Libya, sending their fighters to take part in numerous sorties alongside NATO planes to strike Arab and military targets in Libya. This event was unprecedented in Arab history, with the exception of the First Iraq War of 1991, which may be understood differently because it fell under the purview of a United Nations resolution. When Qaddafi was killed in the gruesome and inhuman manner that he was, Gulf states cheered the death of an oppressive dictator who had ruled his people with steel and fire and made their lives intolerable for more than four decades. But their behavior toward deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was completely different, as they sought to bolster his regime, only to offer him safe haven in Saudi Arabia when they realized that the Tunisian people’s revolt could not be contained. The same thing happened with President Ali Abdallah Saleh’s regime; for despite millions of Yemeni protesters peacefully filling the streets for months on end, demanding regime change, Gulf states were busy trying to find a formula that would keep President Saleh in power through political maneuvers that extended his reign. To this end, the Gulf Initiative bet on Yemeni protesters losing their resolve; and when they did not, the Initiative was amended time and again, a ploy that went on for close to a year before it became possible to formulate a solution by which the forces loyal to Saleh would remain in power. The resulting initiative was subsequently signed by Saleh and opposition leaders in Riyadh under the supervision of the Saudi king.

A great wave of protests has spread throughout most Arab countries. The political scene in Morocco is ready to burst, but the opposition has not yet received the blessing of Gulf states with strong ties to King Mohamed VI. As a result, the media does not mention the protest movement in Morocco, nor are international or political conferences organized to discuss the reasons behind these protests. The same goes for Jordan, where protests are ongoing against the policies of the Jordanian government; but these protests are given hardly any importance by Gulf rulers, so that they may remain hidden, confined to Amman and other Jordanian cities, and so that the world does not see the reality of the Jordanian people’s concerns and their demands for change, an improvement in governmental performance, and the respect of human rights. As is the case in Morocco, the relationship with King Abdullah bin Hussein is considered more important than the demands of the Jordanian people. Nevertheless, Gulf initiatives are not always guaranteed success, as we saw when GCC countries failed to prevent the downfall of either former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime or that of Tunisian President Ben Ali. These same Gulf states also tried to provide safe haven for President Mubarak, and subsequent to the regime’s fall they attempted to prevent his prosecution and that of members of his family and symbols of his regime. They are still trying to save Mubarak from the punishment that the Egyptian people wish to inflict upon him.

Based on the events that have and still are affecting the region, the Gulf states have been tasked with forming what is known as “The New Middle East” and have become key players in ongoing events, their goal being to change the political and geopolitical map of the region. Due to this fact, the significance of these states is growing by the day, and their importance is increasing both overtly and covertly. The Arab citizen has begun to truly feel these changes occurring; but the most crucial question before the Gulf states remains: Having put all their eggs in the American basket, are they ready to bear the consequences of unexpected transformations that could possibly fall beyond the capacity of the United States to control? Don’t they realize that some players, such as Russia and China, have started to stand up to the New Middle East project that the United States seeks to implement? Aren’t they afraid of losing all that the economic boom of the past decade has afforded them? Finally, don’t they understand that there are people in Manama, Qatif and Kuwait who want to be part of this New Middle East at any cost?

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