Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Importance of the GCC.

The Heart of Capitalism in the Middle East.

The Gulf Cooperation Council consists of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. It is generally dominated by Saudi Arabia, which is the largest and most prominent member-state with the biggest oil reserves. As part of globalisation, the GCC is a form of economic integration on the Arab Peninsula. Since 1981 it has moved to a customs union with joint-armed forces and there is now talk of a monetary union. The GCC being the heart of capitalism in the Middle East, itself a huge investor in the global economy with a prominent place in global finance as well as the oil trade. All of these states have a tacit alliance with Israel. Gaddafi has dubbed the council the "Gulf Uncooperative Council" as it recently sided with the US against him. The GCC is actively involved in the exportation of oil from the rebel-controlled east of the country. The GCC organised the recent summit in Qatar and has been supplying the Libyan rebels with arms.

US interests in the region rely on the ability of the GCC to repress opposition in countries like Bahrain. With Saudi Arabia in the lead, the Peninsula Shield Force, the military wing of the GCC has intervened against the uprising in Bahrain with the supposed aim of protecting the country and it's military infrastructure from "foreign interference". Officially, the fear is that the Shi'ite population might be trying to establish an Islamic state in the Gulf modelled on Iran. Interestingly, the GCC was formed in an effort by these countries to insulate themselves from the conflict between Iran and Iraq. Though the GCC supported Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini for fear of that the "Islamic Revolution" could spread. In such a scenario the precious oil fields could be threatened, as the people living on the land are predominantly Shi'ite Muslim. When Iraq attempted to annex Kuwait in 1990 the GCC immediately made moves to ostracise Iraq and went on to participate in the Persian Gulf War against Iraq.

The Peninsula Shield Force is a counter-revolutionary force which any uprising will have to confront and fend off in order to succeed. This kind of force is necessary to maintain order as the contradiction between market and mosque can undermine such order. The tendency of the market is towards a secular, relativistic and rational individualism. So long as the hegemony of capitalism is maintained and the population remain obedient to that extent, what goes on behind closed doors is a secondary affair. Secularism and relativism are opposed to the Judeo-Islamic values and beliefs prevalent in a place like the United Arab Emirates. The contradiction emerges as the Islamic establishment is necessary for the market to reign unperturbed. The Saudi Princes can only sit around drinking whiskey and smoking expensive cigars because there is a puritan order that formally forbids this behaviour but permisses the concentration of such immense wealth.

There is something of this contradiction in US foreign policy, in that the support lent to Islamism is in contradiction with the "promotion" of neoliberalism. The economic and spiritual wasteland created by liberal capitalism, leaves people to search for an exclusive identity as a source of meaning. It can be found in nationalist and fundamentalist ideology. Arab nationalism offers a secular model, which would be preferable for capitalism, it also has plans for socialistic reforms and a unified pan-Arab state. On the other hand, Islamism posits an identity based on a rigid interpretation of Islam combined with a promised "rebirth" of the Caliphate through terrorism. A version of either can be utilised provided that it is hollowed out. So long as the Taliban will build an oil pipe-line for Unocal, the bans on all music, art and culture can be tolerated. Similarly, Egypt was rehabilitated after the socialistic reforms were reversed and relations with Israel opened up in the 1970s.

The economic interests of the GCC converge with the interests of the US and Israel, in terms of oil and security. The US Fifth Fleet is stationed in Bahrain for this reason. What is less well known is that Qatar is home to a major outpost of US military coordination, one of nearly 30 similar outposts around the world, as well as a huge air-force from where attacks on Pakistan might have been launched by the US. The GCC played a vital role in the coordination of the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and the bombing of Pakistan. There are also over 100,000 US troops stationed on military bases in GCC states. The major US objectives are to maintain the tacit alliance between Arab states and Israel whilst the extraction of oil can continue, which presupposes a repressed population. With these objectives in mind the US is acting to change the trajectory of the recent uprisings and "guide" the revolutionary fervour in accordance with it's own ends.

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