The 32nd summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council may be remembered as the dawn of the Caliphate with the Saudi proposal to accelerate the union of the six GCC States likely to dramatically change the region. The union is being described as “EU Style,” but in practice it would be a larger version of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of tribal monarchies.
The combined entity would have a 1 trillion dollar GDP and some 35 percent of the world’s oil reserves, giving it immeasurable influence on the global stage. And that nucleus of power and wealth would be used to consolidate its influence over rest of the region and the world. If the GCC integrates Yemen, it will be able to turn the Persian Gulf into the Arabian Gulf, and if it integrates Libya, Sudan and Iraq, then it will have a combined population of 100 million and be able to approach the 50 percent world oil reserves marker.
Whether or not the GCC can transition to a Muslim EU, in the words of its charter, “founded on the creed of Islam,” is still an open question. In the last five years the GCC has struggled toward adopting a common market and a common currency, its unity undercut by suspicion of the House of Saud and internal rivalries. While Article Four of the GCC Charter had always made unity into a goal of the GCC and previous Riyadh Declarations had called for consolidating their Arab and Islamic identities into a regional union, there was never enough external pressure and internal promise to make that feasible.
Iran’s nuclear program and the Arab Spring have changed all that. Saudi Arabia’s suppression of Shiite protesters in Bahrain was the first significant use of the GCC’s previously inept Peninsula Shield Force. The victory in Bahrain has kept its Sunni monarchy in power and made it dependent on Saudi backing which has also made its officials into the most enthusiastic proponents of the union.
Holding back the Arab Spring in Bahrain was not only a proxy victory against Iran, it also demonstrated that Saudi influence could hold off Western action against GCC members under its umbrella and gave added weight to Saud Al-Faisal’s call for a combined military and foreign policy. Saudi Arabia can offer GCC members the protection of its enormous influence in the West, as well as one of the largest armies in the region, armed and trained by the United States, and an eventual nuclear umbrella.
The Obama Administration has left the nations of the region with very few options. They can either wait for America and Europe to hand them over to the Muslim Brotherhood on a democratic platter. They can become puppets of Iran. They can long for the return of a Turkish Ottoman Empire under the AKP. Or they can look to the Saudis for leadership and aid.
The Arab Spring has set two Caliphate movements on track. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Caliphate which is to consist of the Arab Socialist countries whose governments were overthrown in the Arab Spring, Egypt and Tunisia, and possibly Syria and Libya. And the GCC, a more traditional Caliphate of tribal monarchs with oil wealth.
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