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The Long Reach of the Gulf Crisis

Policy Alternatives
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This paper seeks to dismantle the current Gulf crisis and its likely military and political repercussions on the Arab region, and assesses the impact of its continued escalation on the situation in Syria, Yemen and Libya in order to map out new regional alliances.

While the crisis between Qatar, on the one hand, and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, on the other, dates back to the arrival of Hamad bin Khalifa to power in 1995, the presence of Al-Jazeera TV Channel, with its free and new media style, has caused discomfort among Arab regimes, particularly in the Gulf. This, the author writes, was compounded by the 2011 popular uprisings and led to the emergence of two conflicting groups:  the axis of resistance (Turkey, Qatar and the Islamists) and the axis of counter-revolutions (Saudi Arabia, the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt, and Jordan). Iran also emerged as a third axis exploiting the difference between the two blocs.

The rivalry between these blocs, the paper argues, has caused a real setback in the course of the Arab Spring and turned the achievements of the revolutions into crises. For instance, it has weakened the leadership structure of the Syrian opposition, and reduced the support of the Free Syrian Army in favour of Islamist factions and Iranian militias. It also allowed a replication of the Egyptian coup experience by General Khalifa Hafter in Libya with Emirati-Saudi-Egyptian support, leading to civil war.

For Al-Alou, the 2015 Gulf reconciliation was nothing more than a truce to arrange the cards pending a new administration in the United States and its policy towards the region. President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and his explicit declaration of support for the Saudi-UAE-Egypt axis prompted the attempt to rearrange the internal Gulf affairs as a prelude to reorganizing the entire region, and re-ignited the crisis with Qatar.

The continuation of the conflict may create a deep rift that could result in the collapse of the political processes that emerged from the 2015 reconciliation and undermine the international efforts to support them in Libya, Syria and Yemen. As a result, the three countries could turn into conflict arenas again, as happened in 2013.

The paper concludes that the conflicting Gulf countries must realize that the current phase of the crisis is different given the sensitivity of the situation in the region. If the conflict escalates to reach direct confrontation through local agents in Syria, Libya and Yemen, it may lead to trends that can directly threaten Gulf national security. 

 

Photo: Meeting in Cairo of the foreign ministers of the countries involved in the Gulf crisis, July 2017, © EPA.