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Will the Gulf Countries Escape the Revolutionary Fires?

[Flag of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Image via Google Images.] [Flag of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Image via Google Images.]

Moataz Salama, Al-thawra am el-eslah: al-kehyar al-aamen le dual al-khaleej (Revolution or Reform: The Peaceful Choice for Gulf Countries). Cairo: Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies – Strategy Papers No 221, 2011.

Moataz Salama in this remarkable study concludes that it is very difficult for the Arab Gulf countries to catch the train of revolutions that so far cross five Arab countries in the unfolding Arab Spring. One might have expected that the sparks of nearby revolutionary fires would have set light to one of these countries.

The study doesn't attempt to research the conditions of one particular country, but considers all the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); these countries seem to have decided to face the Arab Spring as a group, and have thus linked their national security situations to one another. The author indicates that his greater focus is on Saudi Arabia, given its location and size, representing more than sixty per cent of total GCC GDP, along with seventy per cent of its population. The analysis covers three main dimensions: thought directions, reality considerations, and future considerations.

The first dimension explores the notion that concern about the future of Gulf countries amid the Arab revolutions has resulted in one point of view: these countries are almost immune to revolutions, not only because their citizens have little to lead them to request change, but also because these regimes are based on families and tribes that have held power for hundreds of years, leading to deep legitimacy based on stable traditions and norms. Also, conditions that allow for the success of revolutions are missing from these countries, at least for the time being. Thus these countries can oppress, diverge, or halt revolutions from taking their natural course. In addition, the financial resources available to these states are vast. Finally, international stances are generally supportive of the status quo in the Gulf, particularly that of the US, based on direct interests.

Looking at each country individually, based on this analysis it is possible consider that the United Arab Emirates and Qatar are the most safe, while Kuwait is also stable, provided it undergoes some reforms. This analysis overall projects that the spark of revolutions will certainly reach the Gulf, but what will follow will be very different from what we saw in the other Arab states—mainly that these regimes won't fall, but that there may be large-scale reforms. The analysis encourages leaders to set off on the road to reform, instead of depending only on gifts, particularly financial.

The second dimension in the book, and by far the largest, discusses conditions on the ground, leading to the conclusion that the revolutionary path isn't easy for these countries. Looking at the ruling families, the sectarian division of faith schools, large revenues from oil, and finally a population whose majority is sometimes from abroad, especially Asia, these countries are in general immune to the Arab Spring.

In the last section, future considerations, the author concludes that "national revolution" is unlikely in any Gulf country; rather, limited upheaval may occur in select areas, possibly leading to internal divisions and conflicts. In particular, it's difficult to imagine one revolutionary movement taking hold in Saudi Arabia, owing to the sheer complexity of trying to replace the political system that today gathers all its communities under the one Saudi state.

While we must admit the uniqueness of conditions of GCC countries, both on the historical and economic levels, the assumption that these conditions are eternal is unconvincing. The eruption in Bahrain, for example, led to direct confrontation with the police, and eventually to their request for help from the military to bring the conditions under control. While proposed reforms may indeed postpone the Spring of Anger a little, the risk of revolution is definitely increasing with the dusk of the oil age.

This article first appeared in Ahram Online.

1 comment for "Will the Gulf Countries Escape the Revolutionary Fires?"

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Whilst this article is generally fair, the last paragraph, suggesting some potential flaw in the general stability of the region, falls into the trap of failing to differentiate between the social structure of these countries. Bahrain's 'native' population composition is hugely different from that of the UAE, for example, and the repressed majority has been rumbling there for years. Not so in UAE. Beware of generalisations!

John wrote on September 27, 2011 at 01:12 AM

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