Gulf Feudalists Rally To Oppose Revolution And Syria

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THE annual summit of Arab monarchs in the Gulf opened in Manama last Monday with a call for closer economic integration and unity in the face of the revolutions which have swept through much of North Africa, Egypt and even Bahrain, threatening the feudal regimes of the Gulf.

King Hamad of Bahrain called for the Gulf Cooperation Council to provide ‘a security umbrella for its peoples’ and urged ‘economic complementarity’ between its six member states.

In his address to GCC counterparts, Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz, standing in for King Abdullah who stayed away for health reasons, delivered an appeal for unity.

‘We aspire to a strong union with integrated economies, a joint foreign policy and a common defence system,’ he said.

Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Kuwait’s emir, called for humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians and urged Iran to reach a peaceful settlement with neighbours, including over three Gulf islands in dispute with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

He announced a donor conference for civilians caught up in the Syrian conflict to be held at the end of January at the request of the United Nations.

The two-day summit focussed on strengthening ‘Gulf unity, especially politically, economically, in defence, security and culture,’ Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa said.

The meeting also discussed the conflict in Syria and the situation in Yemen.

However, four of the six heads of state did not attend the annual gathering, which takes place in the wake of last year’s Arab Spring uprisings which swept several Arab states.

The overall gross domestic product in 2011 of the GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – amounted to 1.37 trillion dollars, a diplomatic source said.

In 2003, they launched a symbolic customs union which has been beset with problems, failing to meet its target date of 2005, with the transition period systematically extended to 2015.

And a monetary union announced in 2009 with the aim of creating a common currency has also failed to materialise, with just four nations – Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia – signing up to it.

The six will also discuss plans to expand a security treaty they signed in 1994 with the aim of increasing security cooperation in the face of the Arab uprisings, sources said.

‘The summit is taking place under extremely sensitive and delicate circumstances, whose impact on the Gulf states must be studied,’ said the GCC secretary general, Abdellatif Zayani, ahead of the meeting.

Rights activists called on the GCC leaders to introduce democratic reforms, in an open letter to the summit.

‘It appears the events in the past two years,’ especially ‘aspirations for an effective popular participation . . . and creating constitutional monarchies,’ are not on the summit agenda, said the Gulf Forum of Civil Societies said.

Bahrain is still trying to cope with a Shiite-led uprising it tried to crush last year with the backing of Gulf troops, while a Kuwaiti political crisis has seen the opposition stage protests against an amendment to the electoral law.

The Shiite opposition in Sunni-ruled Bahrain has called on the summit ‘to exert pressure on Bahraini leaders to find a solution to the crisis,’ according to one of its leaders.

Witnesses said police on Monday dispersed Shiite demonstrators near Manama, not far from where the summit is being held in the south of the country.

Saudi Arabia’s Shiite-populated oil-rich Eastern Province, meanwhile, has been the site of sporadic protests, while the United Arab Emirates has arrested some 60 Islamist dissidents it claims were plotting against state security.

In normally sleepy Oman, demonstrators took to the streets last year to demand improved living conditions and reforms, in a move that quickly subsided.

The six Gulf states sharpened their tone against their Shiite neighbour Iran on Tuesday, demanding an immediate halt to its ‘interference’ in their internal affairs while urging a rapid political transition in its ally Syria.

The feudal leaders however released the full force of their fury against Iran

Concluding their two-day summit in Manama, the Gulf Cooperation Council members gave their full support to Bahrain’s Sunni minority regime while lashing out at Tehran, which they accuse of fueling a Shiite-led uprising in the host country.

In a joint statement, the GCC countries said they ‘reject and denounce’ Iran’s ‘continued interference’ in their internal affairs.

It added that Tehran must ‘immediately and completely stop these actions and policies that increase regional tension and threaten security and stability’.

The six states – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates also condemned Iran’s ‘continued occupation of the three Emirati islands’ of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, which lie in the strategic Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf.

In addition to the dispute over the islands, relations between Iran and most GCC states have been further strained since Gulf troops rolled into Bahrain last year to help put down Shiite-led protests.

The regional powers have also taken opposite stances towards the Syrian crisis. While Tehran has openly supported President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, GCC members Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been arming rebels fighting regime loyalists.

In their Tuesday statement, the GCC monarchies expressed ‘deep sadness over the continued shedding of blood by the regime and the destruction of cities and infrastructure, making political transition a demand which must be rapidly implemented.’

They also urged the international community ‘to make a quick and serious move to end massacres’ in Syria and provide humanitarian assistance to the people.

The GCC states also affirmed their support for the newly-formed opposition National Coalition ‘as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.’

In the closing statement, the meeting said the GCC states had decided to accelerate the process of integrating the economic gap between member states and had approved a security treaty, while announcing the creation of a unified military command.