Riyadh and the Gulf in a dangerous phase
The most important project for Riyadh is to resume convincing the group of Gulf states to work together
Before he was declared king and before he was named crown prince, King Salman bin Abdulaziz was known for handling Gulf affairs in the Saudi government. He knows the Gulf well, its countries, royals, government, people and history. He also knows about their affairs and about bilateral and mutual relations. Although relations between Gulf Cooperation Council member states are close due to what they have in common, these relations do require a sensitive approach.
Most GCC member states are aware of the transformations in the region, of the threats resulting from them and of the problems of international relations with concerned countries. They are also aware of the issues which pose difficulties for their economies, their governments’ budgets and their domestic and foreign commitments, especially following the collapse of oil prices and the overflow of production which once again threatens revenues and their political clout.
King Salman’s tour of the Gulf, which included four capitals, and his participation in the Gulf Summit in Bahrain are both a bid to improve relations - something the Gulf region needs. The stability of the Middle East is mainly the responsibility of Gulf countries which are a major party in many of the region’s crises. The significance of Gulf countries is a lot bigger than the size of its citizen populations and these states currently play a balancing role in the region amid the absence of traditional Arab powers. Gulf countries are trying to fill the vacuum which resulted from the revolutions and chaos of the Arab Spring as they are now the only standing pillars of the region, especially since everyone is preoccupied with the struggle of survival.
The most important project for Riyadh is to resume convincing the group of Gulf states to work together to confront IranAbdulrahman al-Rashed
We can look at the royal tour within the framework of improving relations inside the GCC, a bloc which has remained steadfast despite previous disputes and despite the sometimes different visions regarding the council’s responsibilities toward the region’s affairs. Everyone is aware that the GCC is a necessity amid the surrounding crises.
During the GCC summit which was held in the Bahraini capital last week, King Salman said crises are marked with “terrorism and domestic disputes,” adding that “bloodshed is an inevitable result of the alliance between terrorism, sectarianism and flagrant interferences.” By that, he indicates that Iran leads the sectarian armies and militias of five countries and uses them to fight in Syria and Iraq. It’s also pursuing a sectarian war in Yemen. The alliance between terrorism and sectarianism is clear and the only party which benefits from it is Iran while the parties which lose as a result of it are Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This also threatens the rest of the region, including Gulf states.
Riyadh knows that the solution to confront all these accumulating crises and enemies’ alliances is through the cooperation of the GCC. Most of these countries, if they reunite and agree, are capable of forming a massive front against Iran and its allies and against terrorist groups, including ISIS and al-Qaeda. They would be capable of settling international stances which fluctuated during the phase of chaos. They can finalize the stances of most superpowers in their favor if they can form a unified stance regarding most of the region’s affairs. There’s no doubt that ever since he assumed power, King Salman has sought to narrow distances between Gulf capitals considering he knows them well as he’s dealt with their leaders and institutions for a long time.
After the royal tour and the GCC summit’s conclusion, the most important project for Riyadh is to resume convincing the group of Gulf states to work together to confront Iran which wants to alter political geography and dominate the north, east and south of the Arabian Peninsula - a move that will threaten the council’s survival and its members’ safety. There is no doubt that King Salman, with all the respect he enjoys and thanks to his expertise and special relations with the Gulf, is capable of correcting, or rather developing, Gulf relations and ending disputes amid the real threats which the region is going through in general and which the Gulf is going through in particular. So, can those who have disputes among each other put their controversial matters on hold, at least temporarily?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on December 11, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed