THE BLOG
03/21/2011 11:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Timing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Initiatives

While the initiative taken by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on the Libyan and Bahraini issues sets several precedents, it requires additional steps in terms of both reform and dialogue, which the GCC governments state they are open to. The UN Security Council had been too slow to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, even after the GCC took the initiative to adopt and back the idea of such a measure, and in fact, even after the GCC succeeded at extracting support for a no-fly zone from the Arab League. But this does not negate the fact that this was the first time that the GCC took the initiative to request the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over another Arab country, in protest of the regime there making use of overwhelming military force against civilians or rebels. Members of the UN Security Council rightly called for the Arab countries to supplement their verbal stances with concrete actions, and to be at the forefront of those who would carry out the military operation that will ensue from imposing a no-fly zone, with funds, forces and materiel.

With respect to Bahrain, the fact that Saudi, Emirati and Qatari forces have been deployed to Bahrain constitutes the first-of-its-kind activation of the security agreement -- known as the Peninsula Shield -- among the six countries, which are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. This deployment at the behest of Bahrain is neither an invasion nor foreign intervention, as the Islamic Republic of Iran sought to portray it. The concern by the GCC countries for the security and the regimes of one another is an institutionalized agreement within a regional framework.

The next steps must entail making use of the space provided by the initiative, in order to broaden its horizon to include initiating reforms that have always been met with resistance by the governments of the six countries, and to place wider dialogue and political participation at the forefront of the means sought to eliminate sectarian tensions in the Gulf.

Indeed, this is an opportunity for the Gulf Cooperation Council to prove that it is self-confident and groundbreaking, not just when it comes to developments on the ground, but also in shaping leading trends in the region. There is nothing wrong with listening to logical demands raised by the protesters in the Arab region. In fact, doing so would be the most effective way to bring down haphazard belligerency or belligerency that is aimed at inciting civil strife.

The Jasmine Uprising in Tunisia and the Youth Revolution in Egypt have underscored the need for reform and dialogue in several Arab countries. And when the protest bandwagon reached Yemen and Bahrain, the governments in both countries did eventually affirm their willingness to engage in dialogue with the opposition and to discuss reforms, despite the fact that the two cases of Yemen and Bahrain differ from those of Egypt and Tunisia considerably.

In Egypt for instance, the internet youth number more than 5 million, while in Yemen the number is well below 200,000. The dispute between the Yemeni government and the Yemeni opposition takes place precisely within this equation -- in that it is essentially a dispute between a government and an opposition -- and does not take the form of a revolution by the youths like that of Egypt.

In Bahrain, on the other hand, the sectarian angle has dominated the protest movement, causing it to backfire and further deepen the crisis.

Some in the Yemeni government might think that the stalemate of the Arab revolution or uprising in Libya will help deflect some of the pressures faced by President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and perhaps will help contain the situation through the use of military force. But those who think so are hugely mistaken.

It is true that the Yemeni president has indeed offered a great deal of concessions, much more than he would have had in mind before the eruption of the Arab uprising, and that he has offered dialogue and called for a settlement. However, it is also true that the present lack of trust has been in existence for nearly 30 years of Saleh's reign, while no initiative towards dialogue, reform and real partnership in governance has ever been taken.

Yemen's leadership should have taken measures that would foster trust in what it is offering, in terms of measures that meet the demands of the Yemeni opposition. It should stop conjecturing that settling matters with a security approach is the solution, as the use of force against protesters in the streets will force opposition leaders who have avoided military confrontation with the regime, to reconsider this position.

It maybe too late to make things right. Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to have called upon Yemen calamities, which neither this country nor the region really needs. The window of opportunity -- though closing -- may still be open by genuinely mending the gaps in trust and by sincerely initiating the necessary reforms.

Equally mistaken are those in Yemen who believe that the military measures adopted by Muammar Gaddafi's regime will succeed at stifling the Libyan revolution or the progress of the Arab uprising wagering on a delayed or hesitant international community with regard to taking measures in Libya.

Those who believe that the specter of division in Libya will deter demanding reforms in Yemen from moving forward with their demands are also dead wrong. Concern for the unity of Yemen is one thing, and scaremongering against reform under the pretext of averting division is another.

The eyes of GCC countries are thus focused on Yemen as much as they are focused on Libya or Bahrain, at the very least because Yemen is in their immediate surroundings, because it is vital for stability, and because it is a window for al Qaeda, which Yemen's neighbors will not allow to be opened in their direction.

The GCC countries have acted towards Bahrain on the basis of collective work to protect the security of all six countries, as per the security agreements. These countries must decide to engage in internal political processes in order to ward off sectarian tensions instead of financial incentives and decrees that strengthen the military and the religious establishment, and which evade real political and social reform.

This means setting a strategy for bringing together their peoples, of various sects and confessions, to work together on the basis of reform. Only in this way can they isolate non-Arab parties that aim to incite sectarian conflict in Gulf countries, all in order to divert attention away from their repression of the forces of reform within -- and clearly here, this party is Iran.

Iran is betting on several fronts in order to benefit from the Arab uprising for change. In Egypt, Iran's leadership -- both spiritual and political -- assumed that it could claim that the youth's revolution mirrored its own Islamic Revolution. But after secularism proved to be the main trend in the youths' movement, Tehran reconsidered how it could take advantage of the developments in Egypt, where the regime it had always considered to be its enemy was toppled.

At the present time, Iran considers that the leadership vacuum in Egypt, alongside the problems it will soon face in the wake of the revolution, will help keep Egypt away from the Arab center of gravity. And that is something Iran welcomes.

As for the events in Libya, they too are the subject of Iran's approval because the train of change may ground to a halt there and thus spare Iran and its allies from change and from international pressures, which have so far not reached the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, the international community is almost evading having to deal with Iran at every level -- whether regarding the nuclear issue or supporting the reformists against the regime in Tehran. It is as if the issue of Iran is a "hot potato" which neither the United States nor Europe wants to handle. Tehran is enjoying de facto international leniency and is being spared from being held to account. In fact, there is a danger that this will lead to strengthening the regime's grip and to a self-declared victory by Iran in the region.

Yet, at the same time, the Iranian regime may not be spared from being held to account by its own people, who have not necessarily given up to oppression and tyranny, while the youth in the region are imposing change. It is for this reason that the Iranian regime needs to foment trouble beyond its borders in order to contain any dreams of internal reform, and to divert attention away from the repression it perpetrates against reformists inside Iran.

This is where Iran's role in Bahrain comes in, a role not kept secret by Iranian officials, to such an extent that they complained of "foreign interference," in reference to the Arab countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council activating the Peninsula Shield in Bahrain.

The Bahraini government's complaints of "Iranian interference," in the form of statements and other measures, have their own justifications. Yet at the same time, what the national interest requires, in Bahrain and in all GCC countries, is the anticipation of any Iranian interference, provocation or trickery by engaging in steps that be a precedent at the level of reform and dialogue with Arab citizens of all sects and groups.

There are indications to this kind of awareness being in place in several Gulf capitals and a realization that it is necessary to pay attention to the element of timing. Now is the right time to step forward and take the initiative, especially after GCC countries have taken unprecedented steps, not just at the regional level but also at the international level, when they demanded that the Security Council shoulder its duties, forcing it to think seriously of what it should do regarding Libya.

The Gulf Cooperation Council initiative has perhaps come to represent a shift in collective "Responsibility to Protect" civilians from being a matter of principle to becoming a matter of practical implementation.

Such a qualitative shift places everyone under scrutiny, including those responsible for the initiative, i.e. the GCC countries, not just on the issue of Libya, but also on the issues of the region as a whole including within their own countries.