Towards a Gulf union

By: Tora Systad Tyssen

When hundreds of Saudi troops and 500 police from UAE entered Bahrain in mid-March 2011 the deputy chairman of Bahrain`s parliament, Abdel al-Mowada, said it was a showing of solidarity among the GCC. It was also a showing of the strong Saudi security stamp on the region, an influence bound to grow stronger as steps are taken towards a more united GCC with Saudi Arabia as a main guardian.  

At the opening of the annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh in December Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called for the formation of a Gulf union in response to what he called “growing threats”, saying that “you must realize that our security and stability are threatened and we need to live up to our responsibilities”. The proposal to coordinate defense affairs and other policies among the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council is seen as the natural extension of the already existing GCC military cooperation, which was formed in 1981 as a security alliance to counter post-revolution Iran. Given the unrest in Bahrain the leaders of the GCC seems willing to take significant steps to secure Sunni leadership in the region and counter any Iranian attempt to extend their influence.

The first steps towards unity seems to be taken by King Abdullah and the Bahraini king Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, not surprising in light of the unrest in Bahrain. They have already met to discuss “union plans”, but few details of what they contain are known and about how deeply Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will attempt to merge. Another hint of the plans was given when the preacher Sheik Fareed Al-Meftah of the grand Sunni Mosque Al-Fatih in Manama at the end of February mentioned the union in his speech indicating that the first step towards stronger unity in the GCC would be a closer relation between Bahrain and Saudi-Arabia, calling a Gulf union a “long-awaited dream“ that will “be for the advantages and benefits to the citizens of the GCC countries in all social, cultural, economic, security and military aspects”.

How soon any real steps towards a sort of confederacy will be taken is not known, but Saudi King Abdullah and Bahraini King Hamad are expected to outline their plans further in May. According to Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, a diplomatic adviser to Bahrain`s king the idea becomes more realistic as the political will to establish such a union is growing stronger. And one can only presume the political will is gaining ground as the unrest continues.

Not suprisingly, several prominent Shiite politcal figures in Bahrain have opposed the idea of stronger GCC unity. One of the more diplomatic statements came from Sheik Ali Salman, leader of al-Wifaq, stating that: “We welcome the idea of closer Gulf union if the people of nations approve it, but if the purpose is just to turn Bahrain into an emirate of Saudi Arabia, then it will not be accepted and it will be disastrous.”

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