Is It The Beginning Of The End For The GCC?


The Gulf Cooperation Council consisting  of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain was  formally established in May 1981.The Charter stipulates  that the purpose is “to effect coordination, integration and inter-connection between Member States in all fields in order to achieve unity between them.” The 1979 Iranian Revolution led by Ayatollah Khomeini that felled Shah Mohammed Reza increased the sense of vulnerability of the GCC monarchies. It was noted that the Shah fell despite his  long alliance with US.  Khomeini threatened to export revolution to the neighboring countries and he was opposed to dynastic rule. US, naturally, encouraged the formation of the GCC.

As a regional organization, the GCC has registered remarkable success compared to others such as SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Countries. The GCC    succeeded in establishing a customs union by January 2015.  It has a joint military force known as the Peninsular Shield. Sometime back Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain did start talks on a monetary union in 2014. The turbulence in the Arab world, popularly known as the Arab Spring, did affect Bahrain, but prompt action by the GCC has saved the monarchy in Bahrain.

In short, the GCC has been a significant force for regional harmony and stability. The rulers have by and large  ruled wisely and the oil wealth has not been wasted. There is huge goodwill for the GCC in India and elsewhere in the world. Therefore, the current turbulence is a matter of deep concern to the friends and well wishers of the GCC.


The current crisis erupted when Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt formed a Quartet and cut off diplomatic, trade, and transport links with Qatar on 5th June 2017. Earlier, President Trump had visited Saudi Arabia (20/21 May 2017). King Salman had superbly choreographed the visit and about 50 leaders including heads of state joined King Salman in welcoming President Trump on his first visit abroad. It is believed that Trump was asked and he had given a green signal for the Quartet’s plan to break off links with Qatar.

The Quartet did not come out with any list of demands. But, it was evident that, basically, the Quartet led by Saudi Arabia was unhappy over an independent foreign policy that Qatar pursued; they wanted Qatar to terminate its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down Al Jazeera and  the Turkish base , and scale down relations with Iran. When US publicly scolded the Quartet that it had not clearly listed its demands, 13 demands were brought up with a 10-day deadline to meet them. The list was handed over to Kuwait on 12th July. Qatar cleverly publicized the demands to the chagrin of the Quartet. The unreasonableness of the demands was quickly recognized by the West and the rest of the world.

It is necessary to briefly comment on the demands.  Qatar has been following a foreign policy not always aligned with that of Saudi Arabia.  Qatar’s insistence on independence is understandable as it is a question of sovereignty. The Muslim Brotherhood founded in Egypt   in  1928  It is not a terrorist organization. President Morsi, the first democratically elected President of Egypt was removed in a military coup carried out with money and diplomatic support from UAE and possibly Saudi Arabia in July 2013. Qatar was a strong supporter of Morsi.

Al Jazeera is a professionally run channel comparable to BBC .   If the channel has been unduly critical of any GCC member state that should be corrected. There is no need to shut down the channel. It was in 2012 that Turkey and Qatar initiated discussion on military cooperation and Riyadh had then welcomed it as a move against Iran. Turkey has sent a small number of soldiers , probably 150 after the blockade was announced.

There have been unconfirmed reports that UAE had contacted the US company Black Water used by the Pentagon in Iraq to train mercenaries for such an intervention in Qatar. However, we do not have any confirmation in this regard.

Coming to the demand to downscale or cut off relations with Iran, this is not a reasonable demand. Qatar and Iran share the largest gas deposit known as the South Pars and Qatar has to do its utmost to maintain good relations with its large neighbor.

As expected, Qatar ignored the deadline, but signaled that it was ready to negotiate. The Quartet replied that it wanted surrender first to be followed by talks. Naturally, Qatar stood firm.


If such a crisis had occurred when Obama was President, Secretary of State John Kerry would have rushed to the GCC capitals and resolved  it  using US clout. Under Trump, Washington has failed to address the issue. Initially, Trump tweeted firm support to Saudi Arabia and insisted that Qatar should ‘stop funding terror’.  His Secretary of State Tillerson and Secretary of Defense General Mattis reminded Trump that the biggest US air base in the region is in Qatar. Eventually, Trump came round, but not fully. He promised to have a Camp David style meeting with him chairing it. Saudi Arabia declined  the invitation. One doubts whether Trump has the stamina and tact of a Clinton or Carter. Tillerson has visited Riyadh and other capitals more than once, but so far to no avail.


The most important mediation has been attempted by Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, eminently qualified to engage in the delicate task that requires diplomatic skills of the highest order. The Amir ,  Foreign Minister from 1963 to 1991,  has successfully handled intra-GCC  disputes earlier. That the mediation has not yet borne fruit is unfortunate. But, the fault is not of the mediator. He can only facilitate a resolution if and if only both the disputants want a resolution.


Qatar has demonstrated patience, maturity, and sound judgment in abundant measure. It could have thrown out a few hundreds of the 300,000 Egyptians in Qatar. President El Sisi of Egypt would have lost domestic support for his policy against Qatar. Similarly, Qatar continues to supply gas to UAE. The Amir of Qatar and its Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrehman Al Thani  have always avoided using harsh language against the Quartet. There have been reports  of attempts to effect regime change in Qatar. But, Doha has invariably avoided verbal attacks.


India wants to see an early resolution of the crisis. It believes that the crisis has affected adversely all the GCC  member states.  The IMF has assessed that unless resolved soon the crisis will affect economic growth.

India’s total trade with the GCC amounts to $ 643 million in 2015-16.The GCC supplies half of India’s oil imports. There are 8 million Indians in the Gulf and their remittance back home is essential support for lacks of families. In short, instability and tension in the Gulf will affect India adversely.

India does not see the GCC as a market for manpower export. It recognizes the deep historical ties with the Gulf region and cherishes its many-splendored relations with it.


The next GCC summit is due in Kuwait on 5/6th  December 2017. Bahrain has said that it wouldn’t sit with Qatar and it wants to ‘freeze’ Qatar’s membership. The GCC charter requires unanimity for such decisions. Obviously, Bahrain’s proposal will not be accepted. While the restoration of harmony in the GCC will be in the interest of the entire GCC, we cannot be certain that it will happen soon. Will the summit be held as planned?

The best scenario is for the Kuwaiti mediation to succeed. If not, there is a possibility that Washington, in order to prevent Iran from gaining more regional clout, might impose a settlement. If neither Kuwait nor US succeeds, the GCC  as we know it will disappear.

Ambassador K. P. Fabian is an Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000, during which time he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy.[2] During his time in the diplomatic service, he spent three years in Iran (from 1976 to 1979), witnessing the Iranian Revolution first hand. As Joint Secretary (Gulf), Fabian coordinated the evacuation of over 176,000 Indian nationals from Iraq and Kuwait in 1990–91. His multilateral experience includes representing India at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Civil Aviation Organization, Food and Agricultural Organization, World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. He is also the author of two books, Commonsense on the War on Iraq, which was published in 2003 and Diplomacy: Indian Style.


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