Friday, March 25, 2011

The GCC and Bahrain

A super-sized photo of Bahraini King Hamad Al Khalifa at a roundabout in Manama prior to the demonstrations that started mid-Feb (Paul Cochrane)

In 2008, I wrote an article about the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)'s common market, what I termed the GCM -

Giving some background, I wrote about the GCC's creation, which I think is worth reiterating given the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Qataris deployment of armed forces to crush the demonstrations in fellow GCC country Bahrain, while Kuwait has sent warships but not ground forces (currently onboard the vessels). Amid all the hubbub surrounding this development, many people don't know the history of the GCC or that under the council's rules, the 'intervention' is totally legal. The GCC consists of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar.

Here's what I wrote:

“Since the establishment in 1981 of the Cooperation Council for the Arab Gulf States, to use its official title, the regional body has to a large degree failed in its objectives, which, much like the EEC, were initially not about economic unification but rather to act as a forum for conflict prevention. After all, the body was established following a proposal by Saudi Arabia for an internal security pact among the Gulf monarchies after the armed uprising in Mecca in late 1979, and given further impetus after the Iran-Iraq war erupted in 1980.
The objectives of the council were to coordinate internal security, procurement of arms and national economies of member states, and to settle border disputes under the leadership of the Supreme Council. Yet despite the creation of a Saudi-led Rapid Deployment Force in 1984, the GCC could not broker a ceasefire between Baghdad and Tehran, and failed to present a united front in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Even a committee to facilitate talks between Iran and the UAE over Iranian military exercises in the Straits of Hormuz in 1999 came to nothing.”

How effective the current use of force by the GCC will be in Bahrain remains to be seen, with an estimated 15 people killed and over 1,000 injured since the anti-government protests started in mid-February. What is happening there deserves far more media coverage (with Al Jazeera Arabic's silence an indicator of Gulf monarchical unity), for how the GCC handles the situation in Bahrain will dictate what it will do in the rest of the Gulf if there are further uprisings and unrest.

Bahrain is also a very interesting case, given its small population of 800,000 and that the populace has no access to arms – unlike many other countries in the region – and being an island only connected by a bridge to the mainland (and that is to Saudi Arabia), means the smuggling in of weapons is near impossible. The Bahrainis, unlike the Libyans, have no option but to resist peacefully or with crude homemade weapons. If the uprising is successful, it will be a case study in how to overthrow a regime without any recourse to (serious) violence and would be a further example of the power of the people following the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. Since the GCC's military move into Bahrain however, I am not very optimistic about a positive outcome.

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