The Gulf crisis — which I have chosen to call “the rift” to avoid the emotional or political agendas attached with most labels assigned to it — is entering its fourth year. Despite the excessive length of this rift, there are minimal reconciliation efforts by GCC states and parties. A particularly shameful fact is that we have seen international institutions been suggesting solutions to the crisis for some time without any real efforts by the parties and states of the GCC. Now more than ever, it is necessary for the GCC to work together through the rift, as we are facing two new crises in the Gulf: the drop of oil prices and the global pandemic.
It is unnecessary to discuss yet again the reasons for this rift, which started as a disagreement, developed into a dispute, and is now a boycott. However, it is now essential to revisit discussions regarding the crisis because of these two aforementioned variables that are affecting the Gulf region. The COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in oil prices will both have significant medium- and long-term impacts on the future of the region and on our way of life, influencing economic, political, and social relations within the region among the GCC states as well as beyond it in regards to international actors’ policies toward the Gulf region.
GCC Collective Security is at Risk if the Rift Continues
Regardless of the failure to end the crisis, there are attempts to avoid escalation and contain the “pressure” instigated from individuals with different agendas. Despite the rift, there still exist limited relations between the GCC states, including meetings of low-rank military or civilian officials to discuss matters under the Council’s umbrella. With the pandemic, the drop in oil prices, and the upcoming US election, it is now more important than ever to build upon these attempts and resume mediation efforts; we must be prepared to face these challenges as a collective unit, and as such, we will come out stronger.
In these conditions it is not only impossible but also irresponsible to ignore our shared histories, geographical proximities, common interests, and strong social ties that pull the countries and the people of the GCC together. In protecting the region, the GCC must collectively analyze the different capabilities of its members in order to form the right strategy. Saudi Arabia, with its geographic, demographic, and economic size, has proven through several crises that it is the strategic strength of the GCC. Riyadh’s power is necessary to secure the minimum collective security for GCC states and, more importantly, to ensure the national security of all GCC states. It is also essential to be cognizant of regional threats that may arise once our two neighbors, Turkey and Iran, face similar economic and political crises, for these will pose a greater risk to Gulf security.
Keeping in mind both the goal of collective security and the severity of the rift’s consequences, the GCC must formulate a resolution to end the rift before the consequences are further exacerbated by the current world crises and their future developments.
The Crisis Must End Since GCC Challenges Are Changing
The decline in oil prices means that the GCC states’ budgets are facing greater pressures. Coupled with the risk of a global economic depression and in turn an even sharper decline in energy prices and capital of sovereign funds, economic recovery for GCC states will be a more difficult and long-term process. The economic recession caused by the pandemic — which could continue longer than expected — will affect both available financial capabilities and planned development projects, and may also force GCC states to reconsider their economic and fiscal policies.
Moreover, the pandemic has resulted in several dynamics among the quartet regarding policies related to expats, mainly those from the Arab countries. This points to high-risk indications for the entire GCC social and economic system in a post-COVID-19 economy. As a result, the pattern of labor-intensive development will certainly change to technology and capital intensity from now on.
Another variable that will impact GCC collective security is the Council’s new Secretary-General, who is a Kuwaiti national and holds greater freedom in maneuvering to find a solution to the crisis than his Bahraini predecessor. Also, Oman’s new leadership is clearly working with officials from different GCC states in order to find a rapprochement in the region since Omanis are aware that this is in their best national interest. This sort of intra-GCC collaboration is capable of resolving many disputes, as proven recently when Kuwait and Saudi Arabia resolved the disagreement over oil production from the Neutral Zone.
Additionally, we must reassess and improve the education system for more efficiency and cost-effectiveness in order to qualify the local workforce and facilitate its transition between a surplus in supply in one place and high demand in another. We should also assess the evolving international attention to the Gulf region, which is clear with the gradual departure of the United States from the problems of the Middle East. This policy is dependent on the collective decision-making process in the US, regardless of the administration’s political affiliation.
It is clearer than ever that the effects of the pandemic and low oil prices will be felt in the Gulf region for years to come, and will be part of the coming economic and political changes in a post-COVID-19 world. The GCC as a group will be forced to enter into difficult situations that will require long negotiations related to political and economic problems. Therefore, it is of the best interest of all GCC states to end the rift now and to negotiate as a group. The question, therefore, is as follows: are there opportunities for harmony? If we take into consideration the factors of geography, history, human cohesion, and common interests, in addition to the different capabilities of each GCC state, then yes. There are indeed opportunities for harmony. This reunification of the Gulf and therefore overcoming of the rift is absolutely essential if we are to face the great coming challenges.
Dr. Rumaihi is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kuwait. He holds a Ph.D. from Durham University and has published more than 20 books about the social and political changes in the Arab Gulf states. He has been an Editor-in-Chief for prominent newspapers and magazines in Kuwait and other Arab Gulf states and was Secretary-General of the National Council for Culture, Arts and Literature 1998-2002.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.