The Rise of the Saudi Superstate
The 32ndsummit 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.
The two Caliphates are not in conflict, they actually complement one another. While there have been some harsh words exchanged between the GCC and the Muslim Brotherhood over the group’s growing conflict with the UAE, amid accusations that the Brotherhood is plotting to begin a takeover of GCC countries as early as next year, the rise of the Brotherhood only helps push wavering Sunni states into the Saudi camp.
Middle Eastern countries that don’t want to risk being taken apart by the tripartite alliance of Islamists, liberals and Western democracy advocates need someone to protect them. If that same alliance succeeds in bringing down Syria, with GCC backing and military intervention from Western nations, that will conclusively demonstrate to the region that Iran is incapable of protecting its allies, the way that Saudi Arabia was able to protect Bahrain, not to mention Sudan, despite an international consensus that Sudan is a genocidal state.
While the affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood try to tie together a disparate collection of countries, the GCC will proceed from a more stable base, taking in Yemen and contending with Iran over Bahrain and then Iraq. The GCC will avoid overextending itself beyond countries where it already has a presence, but those countries harnessed together wield enough power and influence to fundamentally change the region.
The Saudi Caliphate has two advantages, money and monarchy. The oil wealth of the kingdoms means that they can stave off most domestic unrest with more bread and circuses, while directing the anger of their people outward in the Jihad against the West. With no elections of any importance to worry about and deeper tribal support that makes them much less reliant on the military apparatus and secret police of other Arab dictators– it has the time and space to form into a Saudi Superstate.
Bahrain will be the Caliphate’s first test. If the Saudis can hold Bahrain against Iranian unrest and Western human rights pressure, then they will have proven to be the strong horse in the region. However if they lose Bahrain, then the GCC will be exposed as a hollow shell entirely dependent on American support for its survival. The Shiite populations are the GCC’s first challenge. If it can suppress them, then it will rule the Gulf.
None of this would have been possible twenty years ago in a region controlled by military strongmen, but the New Middle East of the last decade is a place increasingly dominated by Islamic powers. If Egypt and Syria both fall into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood, then aside from Israel, the major military powers in the region will all be Sunni and Shiite Islamists, whether in Egypt, Turkey, Iran or Saudi Arabia.
The Middle East faces a choice between Cairo, Tehran and Riyadh, between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ayatollahs and the Saudis, and while the choice is of grave importance to those in the region, it is really no choice at all. Either of the three will lead to Islamic tyranny, the repression of women and religious minorities and a war with the rest of the world.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.