Gulf countries have always collaborated with each other and coordinated efforts to safeguard their common interests. Yet, such cooperation has, in most cases, been to prevent external threats such as foreign occupation or invasion, or to protect common interests such as grazing areas or the pearl industry.

This type of cooperation is akin to a deal between tribal leaders in the face of foreign threats and danger, and tends to quickly dissolve or disintegrate once the threat is eliminated.

For instance, in the 18th century, Arab tribes in the Oman peninsula united under the banner of Imam Nasser Bin Murshid to counter western occupation. Another example is how Arab leader Ali Kamal, who was displaced from his home village of Nakheloh, , defended his village along with a group of brave men against the Persian invasion of the Julfar coasts and the Sir Coast.

In 1740, the coast of southern Oman, which extends from Ras Al Hadd to Musandam, united under the banner of Imam Ahmad Bin Saeed.

Later, Shaikh Rahma Bin Mattar succeeded in establishing the Al Qasimi dynasty's rule in the Sir region. Although most of Oman's tribes were divided into two big factions — the Hinawi and the Ghafiri — they later united in the northern part of the Oman peninsula under two tribal alliances. The first was the alliance of Bani Yas under the leadership of Al Bu Falah with Abu Dhabi as its capital. The second was the Al Qawasim alliance under the leadership of Al Qawasim with Sharjah as its capital.

Later, the Al Qawasim alliance was divided into the shaikhdoms of Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah, Dubai and Fujairah.

In the 1960s, Britain announced its intention to withdraw from the Gulf region by 1971 prompting the Iranian regime to try spreading its sovereignty over some Arab territories.

Federal system

This prompted the political leadership of the nine emirates — Qatar, Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain — to create a federal system between themselves to thwart Iran's plans.

In the early 1970s, however, the attempt to create a federation of nine emirates failed after Bahrain and Qatar announced their independence following the British withdrawal.

On December 2, 1971, the UAE federation was created. The emirate of Ras Al Khaimah joined the federation three months later, specifically after Iran occupied the UAE islands of Abu Mousa, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb.

In the early 1980s, the six Gulf nations, namely Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain announced the establishment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The fact that the council comprises of countries that are similar in their political, economic and social composition adds elements of strength to the bloc.

Yet, this similarity may reflect negatively on the possibility of developing the GCC in four key areas, including sovereignty, political participation, public funds and accountability and control over government activities.

On sovereignty, any form of union between GCC countries will not be completely successful, except if its members abandon part of their sovereignty in favour of the whole federal entity. This is the reason why the GCC did not list union or unity as one of its aims at the time of its creation. None of its members were and are still not ready to place the interest of the new entity over that of their own.

Therefore, the concept of voluntary cooperation will not develop into more than what it is today. The political states comprising the GCC will remain units that enjoy independence determined by tribal values, which is far away from the aspirations of the GCC people who wish to have a union that is not based on the wishes of tribal heads and the interests of these tribes and families.

Regarding political participation, Gulf states, except Kuwait, have not yet evolved enough to have true political participation. This is because the decision of cooperation is subject to the tribal head's wish, not to a political will that supports or opposes it to ensure the rationalisation of the decision and its sustainability.

In this regard, the experience of the European Union (EU) stands as a live example of the political and public will. Hence, political participation guarantees the citizen's right as it constitutes political control over government activities.

With regard to public funds, any modern state is characterised by its good management of public money. It lays out regulations and guarantees that prevent waste or misappropriation.

Most GCC countries place public funds under the control of the supreme leader who spends or restricts spending upon his wish. Accordingly, the GCC members are not expected to abandon their right of control over their countries' wealth to the advantage of the federal entity.

The fourth point is accountability and control over government activities as a criterion that determines GCC progress.

Modern states are based on the principles of separation of powers, checks and balances, and accountability. These principles create institutions that are independent of the government. And this usually is a major concession by the ruler, as an individual, in favour of state sovereignty and supremacy of the law and constitutional institutions.

Thus, the progress of the GCC is subject to the existence of such constitutional authorities.

If GCC countries do not embrace those principles, their integration and development will remain conditional upon a looming danger or a serious threat to the political system in these countries.

Khalifa Rashid Al Shaali is a UAE writer.