With Saudi Arabia and the UAE increasingly using the GCC for their own ends, other Gulf countries are considering going a separate way.
The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Oman is not serving its purpose – alternatives are being pursued.
A Free Trade Zone area, comprising of smaller GCC members, Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman are under discussion.
Ever since its inception in 1981, Saudi Arabia, the largest and the dominant force within the GCC, has been leading the pack. However, with the two Mohammad’s – Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed (MBZ) of the UAE – at the helm in their respective countries, the GCC has adopted a more aggressive political tone, with these two over-asserting themselves in the regional geopolitical landscape.
Iran has been their nemesis. Both Riyadh and Abu Dhabi remain singularly focused on Tehran – come what may.
In the process, they waged a disastrous war against Houthis in Yemen, sanctioned Qatar bypassing saner voices from Kuwait, Oman and elsewhere — used proxies in the ongoing civil war in Iraq, Libya, and Syria and worked to suppress the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region.
In the process, despite considerably lower oil revenues, billions of dollars were squandered on ruinous adventures, attempting to take Tehran out of the regional political landscape.
At the domestic levels, despite lip service to open up their societies, they brutally continued to silence voices of dissent. The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the arrests of scores of scholars, writers, intellectuals, and women was a clear manifestation of the ongoing oppression.
Over the last 30 months or so, the Emir of Kuwait and Oman have tried relentlessly to get the GCC-Qatar issue resolved amicably. Their efforts have not yielded the desired results. With Saudi Arabia and the UAE, obsessed with teaching a lesson to Iran and Qatar, they continue to insist upon Kuwait and Oman to side with them in the struggle. However, both are reluctant.
Faced with this domineering mindset, they are now beginning to think of carving out a separate course for themselves, independent of the dictates of House of Sauds and the Sheikhs of the UAE.
As per reports, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman Free Trade Zone are being discussed, at political levels.
The proposed Free Zone, open to global businesses, without political strings, is expected to attract investments from across the globe by legally protecting their interests.
It is being designed to meet the aspirations of the locals, ensuring them freedom of speech and movement and equal rights to women. Talks of a single currency is also a part of the ongoing deliberations, sources indicate.
Steps are already in place for the move. Since the blockade of Qatar, business transactions between Oman and Qatar hava increased exponentially. Qatar is one of the chief foreign investors in Oman.
In the meantime, Qatar and Kuwait have also enhanced their business and industrial cooperation.
The very concept of a Free Trade Zone has geopolitical dimensions too. Despite the pressure, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman continue to maintain relations with Iran. With the proposed free zone, the geopolitics of the region concerning Iran could undergo a sea change.
Though Iran is not to be a member of the zone, at this stage, it has much to gain. The prospective free zone could provide Iran with a sense of security, helping it emerge as a stabilising, and not a disrupting, force in the region.
Courtesy, the growing cohesiveness among the three states, the region’s political and strategic ties with Turkey are also expected to gain in-depth.
The idea is not a hypothetical one. Through this union, the smaller GCC states can look forward to greater integration, without the fear of Saudi domination.
It has the potential of reclaiming the dream of greater integration among the people who, despite divisions, continue to be interconnected through tribes and clans, bypassing state boundaries.
By: YASSER M DHOUIB This article is published first in TRTWorld.
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