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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

GCC should balance diplomacy with increased military power

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Chairman's Message

The face of our Arab World has changed beyond recognition in less than 12 months. At least four autocratic regimes have been unseated by popular uprisings. On the face of it, this should be a time for celebration.

But, as I’ve predicted over and over again in my newspaper columns, such sudden widespread change has led to uncertainty, instability, insecurity and disunity among states, weakening the Arab region as a whole.

On Wednesday the 25th January, Egyptians flocked to their squares to mark the first anniversary of their revolution but the mood was hardly celebratory. Getting rid of Hosni Mubarak was no magic bullet. Discontent runs through all sectors of society.

The youth say their revolution has been stolen by the military and Islamist parties. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists dominating parliament are pushing the SCAF to transfer power to a civilian government. The poor don’t care who’s in charge; they want jobs and an end to spiraling prices.

Early on, when most political commentators were responding emotionally to the revolution, I wrote of the dangers. As long ago as February 5th 2011, in a column titled “Egypt’s youth revolution has been hijacked” I warned that the Muslim Brotherhood was well organized and artfully portraying itself as moderate while secularist parties led by Mohammed ElBaradei and Ayman Nour had little following.

In “A worrying turn for Egypt’s revolution” (6th April 2011) I wrote of warming relations between Egypt and Iran and of my worries that should the Muslim Brotherhood dominate politics, “it could become a conduit for Iranian influence in the heart of the Arab World”.

I note with concern that a new Egyptian movement calling itself the Egyptian Revolutionary Guard that has replaced the eagle on Egypt’s flag with the Ayatollah Khomeini has since emerged.

During a speech delivered in Bahrain, Dubai’s Police Chief Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim went as far as to equate the threat to the Gulf from the Muslim Brotherhood with that of Iran. I wasn’t far off the mark in my other articles on Egypt published last year – “A fine line between liberty and chaos” (March 3rd 2011), “Egypt’s economic recovery is in the balance” (May 23rd, 2011), “An impatient majority holds Egypt hostage (24th July, 2011, “Only God’s mercy can save Egypt” (6th August, 2011) and “Egyptians require saving from themselves (14th October, 2011).

In those, I reiterated that no state can flourish under mob rule and asserted the importance of strong governance and law and order allowing the economy to grow. I foresaw a revolution of the hungry.

That hasn’t happened yet but when the country’s foreign currency reserves have been halved, the stock market volatile and the government is reluctantly pursuing an IMF loan and may have to devalue the Egyptian pound causing rampant inflation, the hungry will make their voices heard sooner rather than later.

Given that Egypt is in no fit state to re-adopt its rightful role as one of the Arab World’s leaders and the Arab League is divided and ineffectual, I have been urging the GCC to forcefully take the leadership reins.

In my column “Moment ripe for firm GCC union”, I seconded the call from Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz urging GCC States “to move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union within a single entity” to better stave off growing threats”.

Lt Gen Tamim has recently put US policies atop his ‘threat list’ ahead of Iran. In his speech, he blamed America for being insincere, exporting revolution and handing Iraq to Iran.

I think the Iranian regime is far more dangerous but I broadly agree with him and as I wrote in my column “GCC grapples with Iranian threat”, published March 14th 2011, the US operates entirely out of selfinterest. This is why it’s about time that the GCC took a leaf out of Washington’s book.

The GCC should be responsible for the protection of its lands and peoples. The GCC should develop its military might and warn its enemies that we are strong and awake as I’ve urged in several articles, including my “Open letter to the heads of GCC States” (27th August 2011).

I have also strongly advocated for the GCC’s rapid reaction force to intervene in Syria to protect innocents in various of my writings and am grateful to the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani for his readiness to deploy Gulf troops.

I am also pleased that Saudi Arabia saw the Arab League monitoring as the failure it was and pulled out the Saudi observers, a move that was emulated by Gulf States. It’s a good sign, too, that the Arab League secretariat is liaising with the United Nations to lend weight to its demands. It is, however, shameful that some Arab countries are erecting obstacles to progress.

Tarik Al Humaid, writing in Asharq Al Awsat under the headline “Syria: KSA did it, what about you?” took the words out of my mouth when he asked why other Arab states were hesitant to help the Syrian people and again when he suggested that the GCC should join with Turkey to rescue Syria. I’m also appreciative of Mr. Humaid’s recognition that Iraq has been gifted to Tehran by Prime Minister Al- Maliki and his pro-Iranian cohorts.

Once again, I would ask the heads of GCC states not to rely on outsiders. Depend on your own power and don’t be afraid to display your military capabilities to scare our enemies.

Listen to your hearts, your instincts and you will do what is right. Hear the message of Surat Al Anfal, Verse 60 and be guided by it when taking your decisions:

“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged.”

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