Ever since June 5, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar, the question on everybody’s mind is: Is the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) finished? The short answer to this legitimate question is No. No one should rush to the doom and gloom conclusion that the over 100-day-old rupture in Gulf politics means the end to the 36-year-old body.
Granted, the GCC is not at its best these days. Also granted 2017 has not been particularly a good year for GCC cohesiveness and durability. Needless to say, the current political rupture in Gulf politics is serious, indeed the most serious since its inception in May 1981. There is no denying that the GCC seems divided, confused, and some might think it is acting irrationally over the long-standing dispute with Qatar which is accused of financing and accommodating terrorism.
The June 5 rupture has had a traumatic effect on the Gulf fraternity and its tranquillity. Hence the coherent Gulf politics is no longer coherent. And the politically stable Gulf is now fraught with tensions, mostly of its own making with no end in sight. And certainly the integrated Gulf is on the verge of either losing or freezing the membership of Qatar, one of its six founding member states. The prospect of Qatar separating is being seriously contemplated in the GCC capitals.
None of this, however, is enough ground to raise the question: Is the GCC finished? Even in the worst-case scenario if the six-state GCC ends up with five members, meaning a GCC without Qatar temporarily, it is still an economically, politically and military viable entity. A five-member GCC is surely devastating and will constitute a step backward for Arab Gulf integration. A shrinking GCC is also bad for its carefully cultivated image as the only successful regional integration in the perpetually fragmented Arab world. Yet if the end result of the current rupture in Gulf politics is a GCC without Qatar for the time being, it is not the end of the world, and it is definitely not the end of the body.
The worst-case scenario, that is to say a GCC without Qatar, might give rise to bad feelings in Oman and Kuwait. Kuwait has taken upon itself the challenging role of the mediator, but Kuwait will never opt out of the body.
The emir of Kuwait is one of the two remaining founding fathers of Gulf integration. He remains extremely faithful to the idea and the goal of Gulf unity. As for the characteristically neutral Oman, it has the habit of following its own national interest which lies firmly in the GCC, especially at these economically difficult times. It is inconceivable that Oman will sacrifice its membership in the GCC for the sake of maverick Qatar.
Bedrock of Gulf integration
A total breakup of the GCC is highly unlikely but a five-state GCC is very probable, and it will be as good as the six-state GCC. However what matters the most for the future of the GCC is how enduring is the Saudi-UAE axis. These two states constitute the bedrock of Gulf integration and are responsible for its future. They have the means and resources as well as the soft and hard power to keep the rest of the bunch together and happy.
Eventually the boycott of Qatar will come to an end, making a mockery of those who kept predicting the collapse of the GCC. Qatar’s return is just a phone call away.
The recent phone call between the emir of Qatar and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia is enough proof that no matter how far apart the six GCC states drift, even the most serious Gulf crisis can be wrapped up within an hour of one-to-one meeting between Gulf leaders and be the best of Khaleeji brothers once again
The GCC is not finished, no matter how much the sceptics want it to be. The crowd which keep asking, is the GCC finished, are the same voices who raised this question time and again for the past four decades. They should know better that all regional integrations go through periods of ups and downs and the GCC is no exception.
Despite the half step backward, the GCC is still perceived as a credible regional organisation with lots of financial resources, diplomatic clout and considerable political influence. Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and other Gulf capitals are still the real centres of gravity in the Arab world. They are also trusted strategic partners of the US and other global powers at a time of growing global and regional instability.
They need to hold on tight to their faith in the GCC which is going through a difficult time but is an indispensable pillar of stability, regionally and globally. If history is any guide, the over 100-day-old rupture in Gulf politics will be eventually addressed and the GCC will prove to be more resilient than doomsayers think. They are well advised to keep their legitimate yet hasty and nasty question: Is the GCC finished?— to themselves.
Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla is a professor of political science. You can follow him on Twitter, @Abdulkhaleq_UAE