GCC to Form Exclusive Economic Union as Arab Nation Falters in Conflict

Article Summary
Against the backdrop of a Levant and an Arab world gripped by civil wars and a struggle for basic human dignity, the countries of the GCC speak of forming a union, whose underlying goal is to “disassociate themselves from the poorer Arabs” writes Talal Salman. The GCC does not mind undermining the institutions of the Arab Nation for its own goals.

While the Arab Orient gets torn apart, its political entities threatened by civil wars, the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council are calling for some sort of union. This union - which would be formed under the pretense of “opposing the Iranian threat” - would preferably take the form of a federation or confederation. It would also entail a disassociation of the Gulf states from the worries of their “poor brethren,” and from the institutions that were once upon a time the guardians of the Arab Nation’s hope for unity and synergy.  Here of course, we are referring to the Arab League and the multitude of organizations and military, economic and cultural councils that it spawned.

The bloody clashes that erupted in Tripoli over the past couple of days [May 12-15, 2012] have exposed the fact that Lebanon itself is in danger. While some have linked this danger to generalized security concerns, it is inherently rooted in the political and sectarian tensions that have been simmering - and incessantly nourished - in the country.

These dangers came to the surface in Lebanon despite the government’s diligence and its attempts to dissociate itself from the raging inferno spreading across Syria. This inferno threatens to transform the bloody clashes between the tyrannical regime and its many opposing factions, which are already taking place out in the open, into a civil war that would put the state and its people’s unity in jeopardy. This can already be observed given that each of the groups opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad has different affiliations and allegiances.

In Lebanon, the government is in reality more like a collection of governments, each trying to prevent one another from accomplishing anything. As a result, no decisions are made and disputes spread unto the streets. The groups on the streets are now folding back onto themselves, each boasting its own leadership, troops and sources of funding. This situation further exacerbates the divisions already sharpened by the dire situation in Syria. The Lebanese state is thus incapable of adopting a budget and unable to deal with its internal responsibilities - not to mention its external ones. Meanwhile inter-Arab conflicts rage on under the effective patronage of regional and international powers. These outside actors impede reconciliation, effectively working to perpetuate of clashes seen as they serve their higher interests.

How can Lebanon disassociate itself from the fires which are raging in Syria and besieging its northern and eastern regions, given that people on both sides of the border share familial ties and common interests of kinship that are detached from official considerations? This kinship was of course more apparent before Syria erupted into a flurry of protests which soon found external backers that welcomed dissident political leaders and soldiers. These backers began to fund “armed battalions,” supplying them with modern weapons and ammunition from Libya. In effect this transformed Tripoli into a hub through which these deadly shipments could pass, all the while under the legitimizing banner of helping the Islamists fight the Syrian regime.

Tripoli was originally known as Tripoli of the Levant. Despite the various coalitions, foreign regimes and popular uprisings calling for change, one US senator known for his political enmity [in reference to Senator Joe Lieberman] arrived on Lebanon’s northern border via Tripoli to check up on families fleeing the Syrian clashes. He also met with civilian and military opponents to the Assad regime, who have taken up residence in the area to take advantage of their kinship relations and ambiguous borders between the two countries.

No Lebanese official questioned the senator on the motives behind his inspection visit. This is especially odd considering that he arrived empty handed, bringing with him no food or medical aid. He offered no transport the wounded, as the Red Cross does, and left the region amid jubilation, without anyone asking him about the aim of his visit, for which the Syrian regime will surely hold Beirut accountable. This visit served no positive purpose for Lebanon or its government whose espoused slogan is disassociation… from politics! Was the government informed of who this high ranking emissary contacted in Tripoli? Is it aware of what he told those he met when he travelled to northern Lebanon behind the government’s back? Or does none of this matter?!

Furthermore, both the largest and the smallest Gulf states - certainly the richest among them - have announced that they are taking part in a war against the Syrian regime. They have now openly stated that they are financing the conflict, and that they are ready to supply the opposition with weapons. Turkey has also entered the fray against the regime, while Russia and China have declared that they will back it and protect it, at any cost. And what is even more certain than Iran’s support to the Syrian is that Lebanon will become a critical part of the scene on which the Syrian conflict will play out, open to all of its various influences.

Far away, in the Gulf, events are taking place completely removed from those in the rest of the region. Nevermind  Lebanon’s overbearing concerns and the dangers of a long civil war in Syria. No matter the clear divisions within Iraq’s power hierarchy, which threaten to lead to bloody clashes that could spell the end of the country as one political entity. And let us forget the diminished interest in the Palestinian Cause - which has reached the point where it has been forgotten and removed from the agenda of any Arab country, leaving the Israeli enemy as the only political body with which the Palestinian Authority can work to secure the future and rights of the Palestinian people in their land. This is not even to mention the fact that some Palestinians  in Lebanon still complain of official persecution and difficulties in gaining their livelihood and their dignity.

Away from all of that then, an extraordinary meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council was held to discuss the Council’s transformation into a union - be it a federation or confederation; an agreement has yet been reached regarding which form that union would take.

While the GCC has stated that such a move is being undertaken to deter the Iranian threat, the reigning political atmosphere of change that overrunning all Arab lands reveals different underlying dimensions within this decision. Namely, it appears as if the GCC had decided to embark on this path in order to “disassociate themselves from poorer Arabs”.

Among the justifications used to promote the idea of a union – aside from the Bahraini regime’s clash with a peaceful opposition movement -  is the fact that the GCC countries are capable of becoming “an economic force that controls the most important source of energy in the world, with a Gross Domestic Product of more than 1.4 trillion dollars in 2011 - representing more than half of all Arab economic activity combined.

“The GCC countries possess official cash reserves valued at close to 630 billion dollars, and foreign investments equal to approximately 2 trillion dollars, including assets in sovereign wealth funds. In addition, the GCC has a trade volume currently valued at 1 trillion dollars, compared to 261 billion in the year 2000. The countries also attract foreign investments worth 300 billion dollars, and export more than 15 million barrels of oil per day.” (Information taken verbatim from official Saudi sources).

What happened in Tripoli during the last couple of days was but a warning.

Does the tense political, economic, and social atmosphere require further elucidation? Isn’t the chronic neglect of Tripoli, and most of northern Lebanon in general, evidence enough that the country’s second capital has been marginalized despite its glorious history marked by struggle? Is it not clear that it has been pushed to the side despite its more beautiful and earlier development compared to Beirut?

The Lebanese government - in which its head and four ministers come from Tripoli and the Mina - does not truly rule. It has not achieved anything for Tripoli or any other region in a way that could help these areas break away from the vicious circle of misery that afflicts them and pushes their youth towards extremism to the point of taking up arms under the pretense of resisting against the “other” inhabitants of the city.

If we add the direct repercussions of the dangerous and bloody developments taking place in Syria to the regime’s inability to effect reforms or resolve the increasingly sectarian conflict, it becomes more clear why the Lebanese streets should explode. These streets are occupied by sectarian forces while those of the “state” are absent. This explosion of conflict will certainly be further encouraged by the armed chaos sweeping across Syria, as it leads to a great number of the Syrian regime’s opponents seeking refuge in Lebanon’s north - that is, the most religious and extreme among them.

The danger for Tripoli is that the government - with its five officials from the city - continues to neglect its demands and needs. This has and will continue to lead to its transformation into an additional front for the battle for Syria, with all of the same characteristics, especially sectarianism.

Found in: unity, tripoli violence, sectarian conflict, iranian threat, iran, gcc, cooperation, civil war

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