One of the key developments in the Middle East in the last few decades has been the growing alliance between Egypt and some of the Gulf Cooperation Council states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates/UAE). For most of the 1950s and 1960s Egypt, under President Gamal Abd al-Nasser, viewed the Gulf’s ruling families as reactionary and medieval regimes whose days were numbered. Meanwhile, the Gulf leaders felt threatened by Nasser’s vision of Arab nationalism and socialism.
In spite of numerous efforts by the USA and its European and regional allies, the three-year blockade of Qatar by the Arab quartet shows no sign of abating. With the Trump administration determined to ratchet up its pressure on Iran and the UN’s Iran arms embargo expiry date fast approaching, one can be certain that the current crisis is set to gain an added urgency in the days and weeks ahead.
Once marginal in shaping the geopolitics of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, Gulf power projection and competition have become a central driver of the politics of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The political turmoil that engulfed these states created both threats and opportunities for Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the rich and ambitious states of the Arabian Peninsula.
In the current moment it is not possible to consider trajectories of museums and nation-building in the Arabian Gulf without taking into account the ongoing diplomatic crisis, or blockade that began on 5th June 2017. On this date, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt abruptly closed their borders and cut diplomatic ties with Qatar amidst accusations that the small Gulf state supported terrorism, had become too close to Iran and was meddling with their own internal affairs.
Alliances and rivalries in the Middle East have become liquid. The proliferation of regional conflicts and a more acute sense of regime vulnerability across the region explain why realignments are more frequent and countries are able to ally on one particular front and be at odds on another one. In the past, alliances shifted but were far more consistent. Making sense of Turkey realignments is paramount to understand both the geopolitical shifts in the MENA region and tensions in transatlantic relations.
In NATO-Gulf monarchies relations, military education is the most effective vector of cooperation. Moreover, individual partnerships work definitely better than a multilateral format. For this reason, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), launched in 2004 as a practical cooperation framework between NATO and some Arab Gulf states (United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait) has showed all its limits so far, slightly changing its nature - or rather adapting - on course.
The Arab Spring changed deeply the political structure of several countries of the Arab world such as Tunisia and Egypt. However, its effects go far beyond the domestic politics of these countries, and are affecting the power balances of the region. The Muslim Brotherhood-linked parties have emerged as a new important player, proposing a new bottom-up approach to power based on an Islamist ideology.
The emergence of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies as a major player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most interesting outcomes of the Arab Spring. The Arab awakening and the deep regional transformations that it has engendered have pushed the Gulf monarchies to assume a more dynamic and assertive stance in the MENA region to protect their interests, preventing a wave of unrest that could have endangered their own stability and influence in regional and internal dynamics.