In 1998, a shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Indonesia. It turned out to be the remains of an early ninth-century dhow from the Gulf that had been headed back from China with a cargo of over 70,000 items, primarily ceramics, produced in different Chinese regions. The goods varied in style and quality, and had clearly been custom-made for the different tastes of the major trading centers of the Gulf. Thousands of ceramic bowls and dishes had been neatly stacked into hundreds of large urns, which in turn had been arranged in several layers of rows along the bottom of the dhow.
A recent report suggests that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) may be looking to expand…again. The report says that, during a March summit, the group of six Arab petro-princedoms extended invitations to both Jordan and Morocco to join a pan-monarchical military alliance. And there is a chance, at least, that the GCC states would include a nominal republic, Egypt, in a broader regional military and defense pact (although it is not clear if Jordan, Morocco and Egypt would need to join the GCC or the military bloc would be a separate entity).
In the run-up to the third anniversary of the Bahraini uprising on February 14, 2011, mass protests with tens of thousands of participants again engulfed the small kingdom. At the same time, a number of contacts between the opposition and the royal family sparked hopes of renewed high-level negotiations leading to the resolution of the long-standing conflict.
In late June 2013, as neighboring Arab states continued their struggles against popular pressure for political reform or regime change, the Gulf emirate of Qatar undertook its own, voluntary transfer of power. Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, patriarch of modern Qatar, appeared on state television to name as successor his 33-year old son, Sheikh Tamim. The outgoing leader was hobbled by serious health problems, it was said, and in any case most observers agreed that a recalibration of Qatar’s domestic and international agendas was perhaps just what the doctor ordered.
Everyone is happy with the interim agreement reached with Iran in Geneva on November 23 — that is, everyone who really wants to defuse the tensions over Iran’s nuclear research program.
“The Iraq war is largely about oil,” wrote Alan Greenspan in his memoir The Age of Turbulence (2007). “I’m saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows.” It may indeed be self-evident that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, as the former Federal Reserve chairman says, because of oil. But what does this proposition mean? The answer is not so obvious.
All claims to the contrary, the Persian Gulf monarchies have been deeply affected by the Arab revolutionary ferment of 2011-2012. Bahrain may be the only country to experience its own sustained upheaval, but the impact has also been felt elsewhere. Demands for a more participatory politics are on the rise, as are calls for the protection of rights and formations of various types of civic and political organization. Although these demands are not new, they are louder than before, including where the price of dissent is highest in Saudi Arabia, Oman and even the usually hushed United Arab Emirates. The resilience of a broad range of activists in denouncing autocracy and discomfiting autocrats is inspirational.
“In the last decade,” wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the November 2011 Foreign Policy, “our foreign policy has transitioned from dealing with the post-Cold War peace dividend to demanding commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those wars wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities” — namely, the growing strategic importance of Asia and the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Adam Hanieh, Capitalism and Class in the Gulf Arab States (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
Will he stay or will he go?
Yemenis and Yemen watchers have been wondering for nearly a year, since the mass uprising against President ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih began, whether he would entrench or decamp.
Dubai, according to the conventional wisdom, is a bust. The International Monetary Fund predicts that economic growth in the United Arab Emirates as a whole will be lower in 2009 than in the last five years; the Dubai government has borrowed billions of dollars from Abu Dhabi to bail out its banks; the government of the Indian state of Kerala reports over 500,000 return migrants from Dubai due to the crisis; property prices have dropped faster than anywhere else in the world; and hotel rates have been slashed in order to lure tourists.
Between the summer of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, oil prices plummeted from a high of $147 per barrel to a low of $33. This extraordinary reversal of fortune announced the end of the second oil boom for the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — precipitated, of course, by the broader global financial crisis. How these oil-exporting countries will weather this dual economic challenge is a live question. From the time that the Gulf economies took off in 2003, there were growing worries that their rapid rise was a massive investment bubble built on high oil prices and cheap credit.
Surprisingly, what first strikes one upon landing in Dubai is not the skyscrapers going up at a dizzying pace. It is the sheer bustle of humanity.
The steady summertime creep of oil prices past $40 per barrel and over an unprecedented $45 surprised most oil analysts, including this one, who were expecting the price to drop after the US-led invasion of Iraq. But no one is likely to have been as stunned as the Bush administration policymakers, like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, who glibly promised post-invasion prosperity for the country “floating on a sea of oil.”
In his State of the Union address in January 1998, President Clinton won thunderous applause for threatening to force Iraq “to comply with the UNSCOM regime and the will of the United Nations.” Stopping UN chemical and biological weapons inspectors from “completing their mission,” declared the president, defies “the will of the world.” In the next three weeks, the White House ordered a massive show of force in the Gulf. Even traditional hawks, however, realized that a bombing mission could undermine American hegemonic interests in the Gulf that are served by a continuation of the sanctions regime.
Research on the political and economic development of the contemporary Arabian Peninsula is often relegated to the fringes of general comparative and Middle Eastern scholarship, isolated from larger theoretical debates and narrowly defined in terms of threat typologies, regional security alliances and the stability of major oil-exporting states. The intellectual marginalization of the Peninsula is the result of a monopoly on access.
While not as great as it had been in the recent past, the role of arms and military spending in the societies and economies of the Gulf states is still much larger than in any other area of the world. It was not until after the Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf war that these states felt that they could make reductions, necessitated by the 1980s fall in world oil prices, in their very large levels of military spending. Only in Kuwait, for understandable reasons, did military spending in 1995, measured in current dollars, exceed that of 1985. Excepting Kuwait, military expenditures per capita are down across the region, as is the percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on the military.