A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Man Who Isn't There: Oman and the GCC Summit

He sent his cousin to Kuwait ...
As the GCC Summit meets in Kuwait, more attention is being paid than in most years. For one thing, at least two of the Heads of State of the six member states are absent. King ‘Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. who is 90 and ailing, sent his Crown Prince. But I want to talk about the absence of Sultan Qaboos of Oman, who sent his Deputy Prime Minister His Highness Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmud Al Sa‘id, shown above with Kuwait's Amir. (Sayyid Fahd is a member of the Royal Family who often represents the Sultan and is sometimes mentioned as a potential successor, so it is not exactly a snub of the Summit.

...but he went to Tehran
But many have noticed that in August, the Sultan visited Iran and was welcomed by President Rouhani, but has chosen to skip the GCC. And we now know, of course, that Oman hosted the secret backchannel through which US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. A deal, of course, which is not that popular with most of the GCC states, particularly the Saudis.

And we also know that Oman has been the main nay-sayer to the Saudi project for turning the GCC into a true union; recently, it openly threatened to reconsider its GCC membership if the union plan goes through. Oman has also, along with the UAE, opposed projects for a joint GCC currency.

I don't want to overemphasize this as it isn't totally new. Oman, which has far more coastline on the Indian Ocean than on the Gulf, and once ruled an empire ranging from Zanzibar to India, has always marched to a somewhat different drummer than the other GCC states. It has always sought to keep lines open to Iran, even in the worst days of the Iran-Iraq war, which helped spur the birth of the GCC in 1981.

But at a time when Saudi Arabia is feuding with its US ally and dismayed by events in many parts of the region, it also finds the GCC disunited. (Qatar's new ruler may be a little less the maverick his father was, but it's still early.) In a time of major realignments, add Oman's recent assertiveness to the list.

No comments: