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Gulf Citizenship Paves The Way For GCC Union

29 December 2012

By Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan

The GCC 33rd summit that concluded in Bahrain last week mainly focused on three primary objectives: Common defense system, joint foreign policy and integrated economies. Obviously, a union among the member states can only achieve these objectives. In other words, the union must come first, and the rest will follow.

The current political situations in most Arab countries, specifically those surrounding the GCC states, are in a complete shambles, with Iran watching the unfolding events closely. In the north, Iraq is almost disintegrated and unstable, Yemen in the south is in a similar state. In Syria, a civil war is raging on with no foreseeable idea as when it will end and what would be the future of the current regime and that of the country.

The political and security situations in Lebanon are tied to the war that is taking place in neighboring Syria and its outcomes. In North Africa, the political situations in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are uncertain, which in turn have halted the overall development, thus impacting the economic and social life of the common citizens.

This dire condition of the Arab world is not an advantage for the Gulf states, as frustration makes a ripe condition for radical theocratic ideas to thrive among the population. So, the future of the GCC countries is unpredictable, especially with the continuous Iranian interferences in the domestic affairs of these states, which aim at expanding Tehran's hegemony over the entire Gulf region. Moreover, the unstable internal affairs in surrounding countries, specifically Iraq, Yemen, and Syria might have spillover effects on the GCC countries.

Experiences have shown that unstable countries attract terrorist groups to establish their bases, gather forces and then launch terrorist activities against their targets. Some of these terrorist groups have already been used by Iran to further its objectives in the Gulf region. For example, reports have indicated that Houthi terror group is joining forces to expand its control over the entire region of Yemen with the help of Iran.

The argument that could be made is those troubled countries (Iraq, Yemen and Syria) that are in the proximity of Saudi Arabia and not directly adjacent to the rest of the Gulf states, pose a threat of terrorism to Saudi Arabia in particular. In fact, Saudi Arabia is the center of the GCC countries being the largest, the most populated, with the biggest economy and the largest market for the Gulf states' products and services. Hence, any threat to Saudi Arabia would have a rippling effect that would reach the rest of the states in an enormous form. In this perspective, Saudi Arabia constitutes a gravitational political center, which pulls the surrounding states together.

Ambitious Iran is surrounding Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and occupying three Emirate islands, while the Iranian-supported Houthi terror group is based next to Oman. Most of these countries have scarce inhabitable areas and have small population. It is expected that by 2020 the Emirati citizens would only constitute 10 percent of the country's entire population. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia could provide the workforce, foot soldiers, the biggest economy and the largest market in the GCC countries.

The international political landscape is changing unfavorably to the Gulf states.

American officials have made statements indicating that the US foreign policy toward the Gulf region has been modified. The new policy has taken into consideration the rising economic and military power of Asia, and also it emphasizes that the Gulf region is not only a concern of the US, but also that of Asian states themselves. So the US would keep its focus on other parts of the world, especially Asia.

According to William Burns, Deputy US Secretary of State, "For all the logical focus on pivots in other directions, however, the fact remains that the United States cannot afford to neglect what's at stake in the Middle East." With respect to Syria and Iran, Burns pointed out that "other nations need to help chart the course in the region following the Arab Spring."

Probably, the United States is seeking to maintain its status as world's first economic and military power which is perceived as being threatened by the rising Asian countries, mainly China. As a result, it made a tactical change in its foreign policy by lessening its political influence in the Middle East, particularly the Gulf region, despite the fact the oil will remain a crucial commodity for world economy for many years.

This change of policy would allow the US to revitalize its economy and ultimately maintain its military strength as the most powerful country in the world. To do so, the US called on those countries that benefit from the most of the Gulf oil to contribute to its security and cut down its military expenses. It has been reported that the Gulf states produce 20 percent of the world's oil production, and China, India, Japan and South Korea consume 87 percent of it. In addition to this strategy, the US moved toward energy dependence by extracting oil from shale.

Consequently, the US would be in a better position to cut down its expenses to revitalize its economy. This could be the primary reason that dictated US' less involvement in the Middle East and the Gulf region. US political analysts have contemplated on scenarios wherein some of the financial burden can be passed on other countries for the region's security by calling on Asian countries to contribute in security efforts of the Gulf, and the other is subcontracting security to Iran. The second option is practically unlikely to happen.

Nonetheless, the statements made by Burns show that the US foreign policy's main objective is to maintain the flow of oil from the Gulf regardless of the type of government. To this effect, Jon Alterman, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that "the US is committed to countries but not necessarily the governments who run them."

In conclusion, the objectives of the 33rd GCC summit appear to be sound and timely.

As a matter of urgency, the next step ought to be toward working on finalizing the initiative of Gulf citizenship, by which all persons belonging to any Gulf state have the same rights and responsibilities. This move would pave the way for economic integration and unified foreign policy, and ultimately a Gulf union.

Al Rashed is the general manager of Al -Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al- Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine, Al Majalla. He is also a senior Columnist in the daily newspapers of Al Madina and Al Bilad. He is a US post-graduate degree in mass communications. He has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.



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