A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Splintering Gulf

The ostracism of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, and Yemen may be much more dangerous than the usual Middle Eastern feud. It has real potential to escalate into into military conflict or subversion and civil strife which could spread not just in the Gulf but beyond to the entire region. The rivalries and resentments that lie behind the dispute are of longstanding and hardly new.The Gulf has a long history of dynastic disputes, rivalries between and within ruling families, territorial disputes on land and sea, fierce rivalries over resources, and other issues. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), formed in 1981 partly in response to the Iranian Revolution and the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, represented six countries which, despite their quarrels, had a great deal in common: all were conservative Arab monarchies; all were, to a greater or lesser degree, dependent on hydrocarbon resources; all were pro-Western; many were former British protectorates. Although several countries had Shi‘ite minorities and Bahrain a majority, all five had Sunni ruling elites. Oman, the odd man out, with its ‘Ibadi tradition and traditional ties with India and East Africa, would also pursue the most independent policies of the lot.

In the 37 years since the formation of the GCC, much has changed. Of the rulers of 1981, only Sultan Qabus is still on the throne. The upheavals we increasingly mislabel Arab Spring provoked rivalries and divisions among the GCC states, as did the increasing role of Iran in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

But I think two other enormous shifts (for now, let's leave the earthquake in US policy aside), were two major shifts which I will discuss at greater length tomorrow: the ever-cautious Seaudi Arabia's sudden assertiveness, even aggressiveness, and Israel's increasing strategic alliance with the Saudis and their allies. More tomorrow.

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