GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Security Considerations for Long-Term Strategic Thinking in GCC Countries
Paper Proposal Text :
During a qat chew in Sanaa, Yemen in 2013, I was discussing Arab politics and world affairs with a member of Yemen’s Majlis ash-shura. I asked why Saudi Arabia, despite its relative power and wealth in the region, did so little to aid Yemen. “For the Saudis,” he responded, “Yemen is like the weedy, overgrown area in the back of your yard in America. Every now and then you will mow it, perhaps fertilize it, but you never really take the care necessary to nurture it. You’d rather just not look at it in the first place.”
This anecdote raises important questions regarding the prosperity of Yemen, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Although GCC countries are relatively politically stable, economically prosperous, and militarily strong, they are surrounded by an unprecedented level of state deterioration. Therefore, the questions raised in this paper depart from the contention that a given country is only as strong as its weakest neighbor.
When speaking of the GCC’s neighbors, Yemen is usually the first country mentioned. This reveals flawed strategic thinking about the GCC and its place in Middle East politics because it fails to acknowledge Iraq as an important Gulf country. In strictly economic terms, Iraq holds the fifth-largest proven oil reserves in the world; the majority of these reserves come from the Persian Gulf city of Basra. The continued disintegration of Iraq raises serious concerns for the GCC. This paper, then, will question how the GCC, in the spirit of cooperation, might begin thinking about reconstruction and modernization efforts for Arab economies.
Any discussion of security issues for the GCC must discuss Iran. Despite decades of sanctions and international espionage, Iran is the second largest economy in the region. Furthermore, it has the second largest population, after Egypt. Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves. Arguably the most prominent security considerations for the GCC are perceived Iranian meddling in Yemen (and other areas with Shia populations) and Iran’s support of the Assad regime in Syria. Certainly, these issues of geopolitical power will not be easily resolved; however, the GCC and Iran must acknowledge that they are part of the same basic web of human interaction in the region. As the Untied States did with China in the 1970s, the GCC and Iran might begin to broach political power reconciliation by addressing their shared economic interests in this shared web of human activity.
Another question to be raised is the relationship between the GCC countries – especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar – and religiously-inspired political reform movements, like Islah in Yemen. A look at world history demonstrates that political reform movements that use religion as a source for framing resonance are an integral part of political development. Whether groups like Islah or the Muslim Brotherhood actually pose a threat to the stability of Gulf monarchies needs to be seriously questioned. To be certain, however, questions must be asked to fully investigate the ideological Wahhabist roots of the violent, takfiri-style groups in the region, such as ISIS.
In January 2016, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, ruled that chess was forbidden in Islam and would no longer be allowed in the Kingdom, calling it “the work of Satan.” Despite the game’s origins in India and its introduction to European countries by Muslims, the Sheikh’s ruling can be interpreted within a long line of decisions seeking to “purify” Islam of Western influence. However, it might also be indicative of serious security concerns within the Kingdom and other Gulf countries: the goal of chess, after all, is toppling the King. Maintaining and strengthening the political, economic, and security situations in GCC countries and throughout the Middle East can begin only after difficult questions, such as the ones raised in this proposal, are investigated.