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Selective intervention

April 20, 2011

The level and nature of intervention by Gulf states in restive Arab nations experiencing popular uprisings is being dictated by internal fears and risks to their own stability, say regional analysts.

Leaders of the six GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries
The GCC is selectively choosing where and how to interveneImage: AP

EU foreign ministers and representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) hold regular meetings on a variety of issues but this year's summit in Abu Dhabi has increased significance. It comes at a time when the wave of popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa begins to stoke increased unrest in many of the GCC's own states and neighbors.

The EU-GCC meeting was expected to touch on the slow process of reform in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt where the "Arab Spring" has already brought about change but discussions are expected to focus on the involvement of the Gulf States in finding resolutions to the social and political problems which have inspired violent revolts in Yemen and Bahrain as well as the conflict in Libya.

While the GCC is attempting to address the problems in these - and their own - countries, the different situations within the Gulf States themselves are preventing the GCC from taking a collective, common stance.

In Libya, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have both contributed military jets to enforce the UN-mandated no-fly zone, while Qatar has gone further by delivering military equipment to the rebels, struck oil deals with them and was the first Arab country to recognize the Transitional National Council.

"These two Gulf States, and particularly Qatar, have taken the lead role in the Middle Eastern countries and have given Arab legitimacy to the Libya intervention," Christian Koch of the Gulf Center Research in Dubai, told Deutsche Welle.

Libya a 'safe platform' for Gulf states

Regional experts believe that the willingness of Qatar and the UAE to get involved to such an extent comes from their own sense of security and stability.

Mirage 2000 jet fighter at
Qatar has taken a lead role in Arab intervention in LibyaImage: dapd

"Both the UAE and Qatar have seen negligible protests - if any at all - and so have nothing to fear and much to gain from supporting the democratic wave in such obvious ways," Professor Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle.

"Qatar has been at the vanguard of the movement for change mainly due to (TV broadcaster) Al Jazeera which has been promoting the revolutionary wave. It also has the chance to gain some regional legitimacy through its involvement in Libya. Both Qatar and the UAE have support among their populations for their actions."

The same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. While the other GCC members, Oman and Kuwait, have experienced some low-level protests, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have been containing their own potentially destabilizing protest movements for weeks.

Bahrain's uprising became such a problem in March that the Saudi's sent in their own troops - along with UAE soldiers as part of a GCC mission - to assist the Bahraini royal family's struggle to contain the protests.

Saudi action

Thousands of anti-government protesters
Protests in Bahrain led to a call for Saudi and UAE troopsImage: AP

"The uprising in Bahrain involves an escalating social movement demanding rights from a ruling Gulf family and as the dominant power in the GCC, Saudi Arabia has led the counter-charge in favour of firmly maintaining the status quo," Dr. Kristian Ulrichsen, a Middle East and North Africa expert and the London School of Economics, told Deutsche Welle.

"The main goal of the monarchies in the GCC is stability; they don't want revolutions, they don't want change anywhere," said Perthes.

"The Saudis especially fear this which is why, before their intervention in Bahrain, they threw billions of dollars at Bahrain and Oman to help to raise social benefits and defuse the situation. When this didn't work, they resorted to force to support a fellow royal family, thereby sending a message to their own people that this is what they would be prepared to do at home."

Where the GCC does appear to have a common stance is on the issue of Yemen. Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers have been trying to negotiate an end to the months-long standoff between protesters and authorities in the regional hot-spot by promoting the transition of power from embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh to a more palatable leadership.

Peaceful transition in Yemen

While there may be differences between the GCC states as to who should replace Saleh, who has close ties with Saudi Arabia, analysts believe that there is less investment in Yemen's immediate future beyond securing the country's stability and the formation of a government of national unity led by the opposition.

A Yemeni anti-regime protester
The opposition in Yemen is facing violent suppressionImage: picture alliance / dpa

"The GCC is acting very rationally with Yemen; it's trying to negotiate a solution while finding a way for Saleh to step down or at least move aside," said Perthes. "The GCC would never promote such a thing within its own states. It just wants stability in Yemen and doesn't really care if it's the opposition in power."

The record of the GCC so far, therefore, is very much a mixed one with greater success in Libya, intermittent successes in Yemen, and less success in Bahrain, according to Kristian Ulrichsen. The level of success appears to be linked to the level of risk that intervention carries for the GCC states who choose - or not - to get involved.

"The support for peaceful democratic change in Libya is a safe platform on which to make a stand as it plays well in the West and does not challenge a regime-type that is found in the Gulf," Ulrichsen said.

"By contrast, the GCC decision to intervene to effectively protect the Bahraini ruling family from its own population reveals the authoritarian motives that drive decision-making closer to home."

Author: Nick Amies
Editor: Rob Mudge

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