Gulf Cooperation Council Forms a ‘Union’

Nearly 30 years after the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman and Qatar, the six oil-rich nations at a summit earlier this month have called for further cementing their ties by forming a union.

At the annual GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia, Saudi King Abdullah minced no words when he exhorted the Council to move from the phase of cooperation to the phase of union as a single entity to stave off the threats to their sovereignty and spoke of the challenges that needed vigilance and a united stance. And his word counts.

To go into a little of the background, the move to create the GCC had come in the wake of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the declaration of an Islamic Revolution that followed since the six nations were against the winds of that brand of revolution reaching their shores.

All these years the relations between the GCC countries and Iran were far from cordial if not edgy. There was the issue of the islands called Greater and Lesser Tumbs involving the UAE and Iran and the issue of sporadic maverick voices in Iranian political circles referring to Bahrain as their territory.

But all this was nothing compared to the challenges posed by Iran and its close ally Syria to the unity and integrity of Bahrain in particular and some of the other GCC states in general since February this year when the Shia community began to raise the standard of revolt on specious grounds.

The threatening voices of dissent and acts of violence and sabotage by that section of the community were taken up in earnest by the Iranian establishment and were fanned through various media, especially Press TV and Al Manar TV and media outfits set up in the UK. As if not to be left behind, Iran’s allies in the utterly repressive regime in Syria went one step further and took to training anti-Bahrain elements on their territory.

Thus, in view of the proven designs of these countries to interfere in the internal affairs of some of the GCC countries and in order to thwart their attempts to instigate sectarian strife whenever possible, the suggestion by the Saudi King makes a lot of sense.

The GCC itself was created to ensure that given its size Iran should not be brow-beating some of the smaller littoral oil states facing its southern coast. Since the menace of Iran was perceived as rising over the years, subsequently it was decided that GCC countries should enter into a strategic defence pact or alliance and it was in line with that pact that, at the invitation of Bahrain, the Saudi forces had arrived there to quell the sectarian strife which was threatening to turn into a conflagration fanned by Iran. It is another matter that the world media, deprived of a good story and cheeky headlines, still chose to call it an ‘invasion’!

This idea of collective defence was taken one step further when the Bahraini Minister of Interior recently came up with the suggestion of having GCC Police as well, which too has found favour with the countries concerned.

For the GCC nations – steeped in identical history, culture, folklore and myths and having the same level of economic clout and infrastructure and similar legislation and modes of governance – moving on from cooperation to union has been long overdue. For instance their monetary union has already been in the pipeline for some time and it is a matter of time before it translates into reality. Therefore the proposed union should not only give the six nations strength but also the confidence to face the challenges posed by their detractors.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.