Alwaght- On Friday, the newly-formed Saudi-Emirati bloc, known as Saudi-Emirati Cooperation Council (SECC), held its first official summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The meeting, co-chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, were announced to be focused on economy, technology, and science. The crown princes, the sources familiar with the summit said, negotiated political, security, and military partnership between the two Persian Gulf monarchies. According to Saudi Arabia's Okaz dailythe two side's Saudi Arabia and UAE sign 20 deals and announce 44 joint projects, while installing a council of 16 ministers from the two states to supervise the implementation of the accords within next 12 months.
The deal to found the joint council was signed in May 2016, when the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, his son Prince Mohammed, and bin Zayed met in Jeddah. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi’s decision to speed up the foundation of the council came about 10 days after a bloc of four Saudi-led Arab states– Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain– cut off diplomatic ties to Qatar and imposed a blockade on the Arab emirate on June 13, 2017.
What did they agree on?
Here is a list of the areas they agreed to work together in:
- Designing a cohesive strategy for food and health security
- Strengthening joint social security system
- Joint oil, gas, and petrochemicals investment
- Founding a joint agricultural investment company with an initial capital of $5 billion
- Initiating a joint investment fund for renewable energies development
- Starting a joint investment fund for small and medium businesses
- Enhancing bilateral banking links
- Creating a concentrated data center for industrial sector
- Shoring up cooperation in economic laws and processes
- Coordination in offering military aids to foreign sides
- Cooperation in military and security sectors and taking steps toward military industries standardization
- Launching joint housing and production projects and also partnership in public services sector
- And founding a joint center for cooperation on infrastructural projects and financial technology development
The two leaders have also agreed to improve relationship between Riyadh and Abu Dhabi to a strategic level as a short-term goal for the council. This comes while the two sides are at loggerheads as Saudi Arabia makes efforts to mend ties with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood’s Yemen branch Al-Islah party. The UAE labels MB a terrorist organization.
Coordination instead of cooperation
But a look at the stated goals behind formation of the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council reminds of the initial objectives of the Persian Gulf Arab states to form their bloc, (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC), in the early 1980s which set to move in a track of political, military, and security convergence of the member states.
Here is a list of goals stated in the PGCC’s foundation manifesto:
- Firm inter-member coordination, cohesion, and improvement in all areas for the final goal of full unity
- Deepening the relations and cooperation potentials between the member countries
- Designing an agreed-upon manifesto in economic, financial, commercial, customs, transportation, and legislation areas
- Encouraging scientific and technical plans in areas such as industry, mining, agriculture, water resources, environment, wildlife, and founding scientific research centers
Now a flashback to the Cooperation Council’s foundation goals can help with observing the reality of the deep gaps in the six-nation body. They are so profound that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have decided to take a separate course by establishing their own council, hence announcing a silent death of the PGCC.
The political, ideological, territorial, and economic disputes among the Persian Gulf Arab states have historical roots, making the Cooperation Council apparently fail to meet its stated goals. Things even worsened over the past few years as the Saudi leadership body saw fundamental changes, making the PGCC immerse in an unprecedented crisis. Now Qatar is under an all-out ban of the four states for a year. After mediatory efforts to put an end to the Qatar crisis went nowhere, the SECC foundation signals chasms among the blockading nations. The Friday’s post-meeting official statement proves this reality. Riyadh and Abu Dhabi stated that the SECC is not an alternative to the PGCC. This, many analysts suggest, was an attempt by the two to eliminate a climate of frustration about continuation of Cooperation Council's life after announcing the Coordination Council.
Bahrain was not included
Bahrain is part of the alliance foisting a ban on Qatar and has been a major partner to Saudi Arabia over the past decades in economic, military, and security areas. Their cooperation outstrips Riyadh-Abu Dhabi’s collaborations. So, Manama’s absence in the new regional body was a point of doubt. As of now, the Bahraini officials have chosen to stay silent on the issue. But very likely the main reason behind Bahrain exclusion was to steer clear of prompting defections from the PGCC. By keeping Bahrain out of their new council, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi can help hide the reality about the Cooperation Council convergence efforts coming to an impasse.