Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saudi Arabia-Bahrain Union Delayed, Not Stopped

One monarchy to rule them all.  The Gulf Cooperation Council: The royalist answer to the United Arab Republic?
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) met  to discuss a series of proposals, including the formation of a union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  While the decision was delayed this move is still the potential continuation of a long running geopolitical shift speed up by unrest.  If taken to the fullest extent, Bahrain would become the first country to disappear because of the Arab Spring.

But before we discuss this here is some important background:


Starting in the 1700s, Arab tribes led by the Saud family spred from the center of present-day Saudi Arabia and quickly branched out and dominated the Arabian Peninsula north of the mountains forming the present-day northern rim of Yemen and the Empty Quarter which protected trade-heavy Oman.  The Saud family conquered through force and political unions through marriage and adoptions.  Unions of small tribal states is the reason why there are so many princes and princesses in Saudi Arabia.  The only reason Qatar, Bahrain, and the emirates which form today’s United Arab Emirates (UAE) remained free from the Saud family’s forced unions was the protection of European trading powers, primarily the Portuguese and British.

Bahrain is a majority Shia country (70% Shia to 30% Sunni officially / 50% Shia, 20% Sunni, 30% Christian and Hindu in reality).  Bahrain was under British protection until the 1970s when the people voted for independence rather joining Shia-majority Iran.  The government is primarily Sunni and many Shia complain about discrimination.  Anger over this discrimination has led to rebellions in the 1980s, 1990s, and the on-going Bahraini Arab Spring.

The GCC is an organization formed in 1981 to act as a trading organization like NAFTA and quickly evolved into a regional development and defense pact.  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE, and Oman form the membership of the organization.  A criticism against the GCC is that it is a Saudi-run front organization meant to control the smaller members.

The Arab Spring has toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.  All these governments were based on various models of Arab Socialist Republicanism.  All GCC members are monarchies, with Bahrain having a very limited parliament while Kuwait’s is slightly freer.  The rest are absolute monarchies.

There is debate even among GCC members over what exactly the movement towards union would mean.  The lack of a clear definition led to the delay. Some state that union will merely align economic and defense matters while Iran claims this is out right annexation (Note: Iranian website).  Some claim the union would allow members to keep the United Nations seat and vote, however, this did not stop the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from absolutely dominating United Nation members Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The benefits of union for Saudi Arabia are plentiful: more if not complete control of military, diplomatic, and economic matters of neighboring states along with increased influence in “domestic” political affairs.  The benefit for Bahrain’s monarchy is that they would hold on to their personal holdings and have a much stronger arm to crush the Shia dissent. 

While the move has been delayed, it has not been defeated.  Look for Saudi Arabia to continue to push for its completion of the conquest of the Arabian Peninsula, one way or the other.

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