International Relations Capstone Project Paper on Political Tribalism and Stability in GCC from 1970-2005

Political Tribalism and Stability in GCC from 1970-2005


Socio-political movements do not occur within a vacuum. They are deeply rooted in existing socio-political structures coupled with realities existing in the economic and political realms of engaged nations. Such uprising continues to interact and steadily shape the political and social dimensions of their regions of great influence. Many of the socio-political issues around the world have well-structured and deeply rooted issues that stem from the historical past. Most popular uprisings that have been experienced in the GCC have historical factors that have continued to influence the manner in which they are conducted and what they are geared towards. These injustices can be traced back to the year 1950s (Acharya, 2008), to the political independence of most of the states forming the GCC in around 1970s (Li, 2008). Other factors that have fueled most uprisings within the GCC include the oil boom in most of the states at around 1973 (Ahmet, 2009), and the turbulent years of the 1980s (Lewis, 1996). Others include Kuwait’s invasion in 1990 (Çaha, 2003), the onset of globalization augmented by technological advancements in the 1990s (El-Affendi, 2003), and the tragic events following the US attacks in September 11 2001, formally known as the 9/11 attacks on the US (Lakoff, 2004). The 9/11 attacks exposed most of the AGs to external monitoring by global communities, commonly referred to as the global watch on terror, owing to the terror threats and attacks originating from the GCC world. These epochal events have revolutionized the political atmosphere and thinking of the entire GCC world. Besides, such events have today culminated in the popular emergence of current Gulf Movements that have had profound influence on the GCC’s political as well as their socio-economic environments.

Political Tribalism and Stability in GCC from 1970-2005


Both internal and external forces have played a major role in determining the political and social spheres of the GCC region. Globalization, for instance, exposed the region’s rich natural resources that saw various powerful nations rush to exploit the oil resources existent in various nations in the region. Besides, historical injustices and revolutions between various neighboring states within the GCC continued to influence their political and socio-economic corporations to date. Since the end of the WWII, the Gulf region has experienced four great events marking the phases of revolution and popular uprisings in the region. Historical analysis of the region is divided into the four basic events forming the phases as discussed in the subsequent sections. These include: 1) the pre-modernity, which took place between 1950- 1970. 2) The first phase of modernity, which took place between 1971 and 1990. 3). The second phase of modernity, which lasted between 1990 and 2010. 4) The final stage of the global movements which is characterized by the advent of globalization and technological revolution that begun in 2010 onwards. Bearing these factors in mind, this paper will analyze the political instability and political tribalism as it occurs in various phases of the GCC world from the pre-modernity stage to the modernity stage. The various influencing factors surrounding the occurrence of these events will be considered, including the influence of western nations – particularly the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The creation and development of the GCC

Formed in 1981 following the heated tensions and wars between Iranian and Iraqi governments, the Gulf Cooperation Council is composed of Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain. It was aimed at bringing these Arab countries under one unified umbrella as well as ensuring that these countries maintained their monarchical rule over their citizens (Marina, 2003). Peaceful co- existence with the neighboring countries, among the member states, was top on their agenda, and the protests in Bahrain in 1983 were used as experimental grounds to see forth the achievement of their deduced goals and commissions to quench violence and protests out of the region. Instead, the goals was to ensure the establishment of peace and stability in their governments given the Bahrain protests were the largest of its kind ever experienced in the region.

The army comprising of up to ten thousand soldiers drawn from each member state saw her first deployment since the formation of the GCC to fight against home based opponents contrary to the mandate for which the army was formed, that is to fight the external wars and incumbents. The al- Khalif government had it right that the local soldiers would not be able to open fire on their own relatives and tribesmen who formed the majority of those protesting against the monarchial rule in Bahrain and therefore embarked on rapid recruitment of the soldiers from outside the country mainly from Saudi. These were not related in any way with the Bahraini protesters other than all being Muslims and, therefore, would not hesitate open fire on the protesters (Masmoudi, 2003). This was the only way the government knew she would end the protests. As a result, several Shiite protesters were killed, and dozens of them injured during the retaliatory attacks from the forces. It also led to the demolition of the monument in the roundabout where the protesters used to gather and organize their plans. This helped in weakening the plans in store for the protests further leading to their abortion.

The Arab Revolution

In late 2004 and most of early 2005, the Arab world was caught up in a wave of uprisings that threatened to change the status quo in the region. Some significant issues combined in different ways over the recent past to initiate the Arab spring. Popular among these can be traced down to the Middle East and North Africa  (Mohammed, 2007) (MENA region).They include among others; the global economic crisis, escalating food prices, skyrocketing unemployment rates revelations of official documents, such as Wiki Leaks of the United States embassy cables, and cultural disparity that created intercultural and inter-clan revolts. Besides these, there were also important local issues put together in various ways to make each of the unrests unique while drawing from each other.

Years that have been marked by authoritarian rule have no doubt acted as an impediment to the freedom of expression that is perhaps now resurfacing when combined with all these other issues. Throughout the years, some these regimes were in a position to placate the vast majority of their populations using great fossil fuel based revenues (Nader, 2009). However, the perception is that it is not enough. According to Robert, (2000), one of the major ways in which single party regimes in the Arab world have tried to control their subjects is by giving a false impression of a coherent and concentrated power while cloaking themselves in privacy. In most cases, decisions are made behind closed doors. Outside the closed doors, citizens have very limited spaces for engaging in independent political activities and inclusivity in the governance of the regions. Any individuals attempting to organize any form of opposition are forced to exit or risk to lose their lives to the monarchs. It is perhaps for this type of political leadership that mosques and Universities, where some space is available for revolts, dominated and spurred Arab Spring in Egypt and Libya (Abu-Hakima, 2004)

Other Arab countries are also artificial; boundaries put in place by colonial powers to partition and subdue the Arab people also triggered a faceoff between clashing sub-cultures like the Sunnis and Shiites. These in conjunction with other factors, together brought a dictatorship kind of rule within most of the GCC world. In Egypt, for example, government expansions since 1952 has made it very difficult to establish democracy by undermining the opposition while improving the chances of the incumbents and their governments (Al Abed & Peter, 2001). Following the military coup of 1952, Nasser made sure that all political parties in Egypt were abolished; setting the stage for a status quo that would be maintained by his predecessors. But while elections have been held in Egypt, all of them have resulted in the incumbent winning with landslide victories and the opposition sides making serious allegations of interference from the government and the inclusion of partisan electoral observers in the election process (Al-Haddad, 2009, January, 4). Other protests are centralized around jobs, unemployment, corruption, as in the case of Egypt. Other factors revolve around historical divisions e.g. Bahrain’s Shia majority that has been under the administration of a Sunni minority and royal family for years (Al-Mutaz, 2001). Briefly, these local, regional, and global issues, therefore, come together in a number of complex ways, more so in the hands of the large population of unemployed but well-educated youth, to augment the historical political tribalism and instability within most of the GCC states.

The Arab spring has been described as a humiliating experience. Just like in Bahrain, the majority of the Arab citizens have felt downtrodden and despised over the recent years by their governments (Al-Zubi, 1999).They hold to the fact that they have been deprived the basic human rights and privileges including the rights to the citizenry. Also to these facts, the aftermath of years of serious socio-economic stressors and political unrest have contributed to acute political deprivation in GCC states. Residents in most of the GCC worlds cannot do what they desire, and their powers are seriously constrained. Most have very limited freedom in most areas of domestic policy given the reality. For instance, in most of the GCC states, the citizens lack strong social and political bases to impose new ideas on the countries’ ruling and governance (Amer, 2006). In this regard, most of them have to rely on influential support groups such as the Sahel region landowners in Tunisia or the Alawi in Syria Blair & Jonathan, (2009) to support their means and initiate their ways amidst political and economic oppressions.

The revolt was triggered by the young people given the fact that they make the majority of those who shoulder the biggest portion of the repercussions of the failed political status quo. Such political revolts were evoked when the young people in these regions felt that they had fallen short of their most fundamental rights and opportunities relating to education, employment, poor wages and income earnings for the youths and stringent laws that hinge on their social lives. The main reason for the protests in the GCC region during the Arab revolution period was fuelled by the governments’ denial to be cajoled in either the legitimacy of stunted citizenship or the prospect of less life opportunities (Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait/MEEW, 2005). The youths’ highly deteriorating and irrelevant academics implied that they faced an uphill task getting jobs that pay enough to guarantee good life. Before them was a whole generation of limited opportunities and deprived rights. Calls for reforms were hampered by the police and security agencies that exercised and ensured that the stringent rules of the ruling governments were followed.

One interesting characteristic of the Arab Revolution was that it was not only limited to states that had one-party systems of governments (Dresch & James, 2005). The Arab revolution was also witnessed in countries such as Bahrain, Morocco, and Jordan, which are traditional monarch states. The revolution further spread into the well-developed monarch states that are endowed with huge oils wealth, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, although not to the extent observed in North Africa. But even in the monarch states, discontent within citizens was particularly about the manner in which power was concentrated in the families of the rulers. In Libya, for example the family and close friend of Colonel Gadaffi managed to concentrate most of the power in their hands. Gadaffi managed to achieve this feat for a long time for the reasons that he resisted calls to share in the process of decision-making and to contain his internal enemies (Ehteshami & Steven, 2008)

The GCC protests during the Arab revolution

Although the protests stuttered on a very small scale, particularly in the Shia-dominated states such as Bahrain, they soon gathered momentum and became a phenomenon. The turning point of the small-scale protests occurred when the police killed protesters in Egypt. Outraged by the death of their members, the protesters moved their base to intensify the protests in various countries within the GCC regions. For instances, the protestors in Bahrain moved and staged protests at the Pearl Roundabout, which is close to the financial harbor of Bahrain  (Acharya, 2008). Although the ruling class had previously dismissed the protests as having little impact on the day-to-day activities of the GCC states, it soon became obvious that something was amiss. Both Sunnis and Shias had acquired a popular overtone and were turning out in large numbers to protests against the governments of the region for a myriad of issues. Such included, mass corruption in the governments, dictatorships, denial of human rights, extrajudicial killings that were on the rise especially in Afghanistan, Iraq and Russia, etc. Popular slogans like ‘No Shias, no Sunnis, only Bahrainis’ became known in various states during the protests. By the evening of February 16, thousands of young Bahrainis had overwhelmed the Pearl Roundabout and called for the removal of King Khalifa from power (Al-Haddad, 2009, January, 4). Similar waves of protests and threats of governments’ removal were mounting in other GCC states such as Iraq and Iran with the latest protests occurring in Egypt

The protests and the developments during the protests offered a direct threat to the legitimacy and the dominance of the ruling governments domestically. With the ruling class taken by a surprise and in a panic mood, a brutal force was unleashed on the gatherings of the protestors such as those on the Pearl Roundabout, in Bahrain. On the third night of the protests, for example, saw the police fire at sleeping protesters in Bahrain. As the protests entered the post-crackdown stage, the governments of Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar sponsored counter-protests in an attempt to fracture the social movements against them. Unaware of the plans of the regime, anti-government protesters were surprised with a sudden emergence of pro-government protesters declaring their support for the regimes (Al-Zubi, 1999). The majority of the pro-government protesters were neutralized citizens, close relatives of ruling class and non-local expatriate workers who depended on the good will of the regimes. In total, it is estimated that upwards of 200,000 of people participated in the pro-democracy protests in the Pearl Roundabout in Bahrain.

With the ruling families in the Monarchial states such as Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq and the UAE pushed to the wall, the governments opened up doors for negotiation with the leading political parties in the opposition. The regime perceived most demonstrators to be associated with the opposition and thus found it necessary to work with the opposition leaders to come up with solutions for the stalemate of the wars. Although the negotiations appeared to be headed for some solutions, after some political reforms were agreed upon, the ruling families were not willing to accept critical reforms and the talks broke down in several GCC states. In mid-March, the Peninsula Shield Force was sent to Bahrain by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The main aim of the Peninsula Shield Force was to ensure stability in the country as “negotiations” continued given that Bahrain was the worst hit during these times. In reality, the Peninsula Shield Force was composed of the military police from the United Arab Emirates and the Saudi Arabian National Guard (Li, 2008). The two countries from which the two forces came were sympathetic to the Regime in Bahrain and were aimed at oppressing protests. In the days following the entry of the Peninsula Shield Force, thousands of people were to be arrested, and many people were forced out of the country.

In mid-March, the regimes announced a state of emergency in Syria, Bahrain, and Egypt, which would last until June and extend into September in Egypt. During this time, the regime, aided by the Peninsula Shield Force, carried out a brutal crackdown on the protesters across the GCC region. For example, Doctors would be detained for treating injured protesters (Abu-Hakima, 2004). Similarly, lawyers who represented protesters would face the wrath of the regimes for siding with the “outlaws.” Most opposition political leaders would be detained, and scores of others forced to leave the country. The media was not spared either. Independent newspapers were targeted by the concerned regimes and popular newspaper reporters were apprehended and detained in Egypt and UAE. The most notable case was that of Al-Wasat, who ended up dying in detention in Bahrain (Çaha, 2003). Given the realization that the protest were initiated by individuals belonging to the Shia communities, hundreds of workers from the Shia communities in the respective GCC countries would lose their jobs in the public and private services for having been absent from work during the protests. Another tactical bullying from the governments also included the destruction of shrines belonging to the Shias and destruction of settlement areas for the Shias (Çaha, 2003). At the same time, the Bahrain National Guard engaged in a hurried recruitment drive to boost its overwhelmed work force in the security forces. Most recruits were obtained from Pakistan on the belief that the Pakistanis would not hesitate to open fire on the protesters. One of the problems that the Bahrain National Guard had faced in trying to manage the protests was the unwillingness of most members of the National Guard to open fire on their families, relatives, and tribesmen. By recruiting from outside Bahrain, the Bahrain National Guard believed that the protesters would be met by full brutality (Dresch & James, 2005). At the same time, the regime bulldozed the monument at the Pearl Roundabout. This monument had been associated with the protests, and the Bahrain’s ruling regime feared that it would assume symbolic meaning just like that of Cairo’s Tahrir Square. However, even with the removal of the monument, the protests continued, and the regime resorted to intimidating the protesters by opening fire on some protesters.

A divided Kingdom; a divided GCC

The six great oil and natural gas producers in the GCC region, namely Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman have continued to influence political decisions made in the GCC regions. The six states form the famous AGS or the Arab Gulf States. Among the key political and economic roles that the six states have taken lead within the GCC states include taking the lead in political and economic influence, influencing various religious and political events, assuming the greater financial responsibilities, projection of socio-economic confidence. Besides, the AGS are increasingly gaining consciousness regarding their newly acquired status that is acclaimed to be higher than the rest of the Arab countries (Robert, 2000). Several rebellions and hatreds seen in the MENA region seem to stem from the fact that the powerful MENA states are undermining the rest of the member states. Besides, cross-border influences are great and bear much influence in the political intolerance in various GCC states. The influence of the United States of America and the United Kingdoms are particularly experienced in the Gulf region. The interest of these external influences as (Al-Mutaz, 2001) states is majorly inclined towards the vast endowment of the oil and natural resources in the region. In this section, I will look at the influence of the United States in causing political and social unrest in various states within the GCC region to foster her means. 

The influence of the United States

The United States of America has had a very crucial role to play in the in the GCC political wars and unrest. Being the super power state in the world during, the war in the GCC region is particularly of very significant concern to the US owing to the political and economic unrests unleashing from these regions. The GCC states such as Syria, Israel, Palestine, and Iran, over the last decades have been among the closest allies of the United States regarding peacekeeping and making in the Middle East countries (Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait/MEEW, 2005). The United States, therefore, felt the need to come in and help the troubled GCC states allied to her and their reigning families from the escalating violence and intolerance from their neighbors. At the heart of these protests the united states came in to give a listening ear to the protestors who had a common agenda to push for in the in their quest to pull down the tyranny of the long-ruling government governments in most GCC states. Since the end of the Second World War, between 1939- 1945, the United States of America has been working tirelessly to expand her territories abroad being the world’s superpower. Emerging from the WWII, the US has been much concerned with the need to build up her capacity as the world’s controller.

The monopoly of the US economy and military power has been threatened by the Arab world forcing the US to revise her stands on how she controls and rule the world. Some of the states that have posed threats to US of late include Iran, Syria among others (Blair & Jonathan, 2009) all from the GCC region. These are mostly the Arab nations. These countries have made America realize the need to strengthen her missions abroad and change the overall process of monitoring the world’s progress and development. Various policies governing the operations of various countries have been sanctioned by the United States to monitor the way certain states carry out their activities. As the controller of the global military and economies, the United States has invented policies governing the way all states within the GCC regions establish their military and political regimes by churning opposition against any ruling regime that opposes its demands, a factor which has seen continued establishment of the wars in the GCC states and political unrest.

There has been a rule enacted on nuclear development and the making of nuclear weapons specifically geared towards causing political intolerance and continued the violence in the GCC regions. It is with the mandate of keeping the world peace that the United States is concerned about the way states within the GCC are handling their political and military decisions and hence the interests in the persistent wars within the GCC regions (Masmoudi, 2003). The GCC states such as Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Kuwait among others are among the major nuclear weapons manufacturers within the GCC region capacity whose military powers and political influence within the MENA regions have continued to worry the USA.

As the most powerful government in the world, the US has also tried to control the world politics. She plants leaders within the GCC states to exercise its rule over these states. An example of such a case is seen when the US government fought countries such as Libya, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and other Arab nations. Today the United States is brushing shoulders with countries such as Iran, Syria and South Korea for reasons related to war as well as for political reasons. American politics determines the politics of the GCC region in the present scene (Acharya, 2008).

The Sunni and Shia politics

The Arab region has been dotted with the fierce politics involving the two categories of the Arabic communities commonly referred to as the Sunni and the Shia communities. The two communities have been in constant opposition of one another, and the domination of one is often seen as a potential threat to the rest of the members. The Arab uprisings have been associated with the fierce rivalries between the Sunni and Shia communities. Some writers and observers have felt that the GGC region is today splitting apart due to the common intolerance and inability to live together and cope with the differences in the two different communities. As a result, the Middle Eastern countries have become a common battleground to the present. Even though the influence of the outside world and politics is estimated to have contributed immensely to the development of the uprisings and constant wars and rebellions existing in the region, differences within the region due to the different communities represented herein contribute largely. This is in determining the course of the wars and the uprisings (Mohammed, 2007). Such differences were said to have influenced the popular uprisings in Bahrain, Oman, and Egypt.

The constant conflicts experienced in Syria are seen to have been fueled especially by the two tribal differences: the Sunni and Shia politics. Similar situations are seen to play a big role in the Lebanon politics and the rest of the GCC region. Moreover, political analysis’s such as Mohammed, (2007) think and tend to estimate that the constant wars between the Sunni and Shia Muslims have seen both sides trying to reinforce their abilities and influence over the region for a long time. For instance, the Gulf States invited Morocco and Jordan to join in so that they could strengthen the Sunni community within the states coalition in the GCC (Abu-Hakima, 2004). 

Influence of post-modernity on the GCC politics

Many years of western colonization saw passive developments in the Asian thoughts and independence. After the colonial period, following the demise of the Soviet Union, many Asian nations gained their independence from the west. The events and ideologies that dominated the colonial Asia and the subsequent fight for freedom changed systematically towards the spirit of nation building and strengthening the spirit of nationalism amongst their people. For instance, central Asia embarked in rebuilding their nation and strengthening the spirit of nationalism within their people, rebuilding the walls that were brought down by Moscow during the colonial wars.  The region in the Asia Pacific, for instance, is today grappling with many issues of considerable political interests. Historically, the United States, China, and Japan have been made to relate together due to a common interest in the region, which dates back to the colonial days. History shows the domination of the United States in the region during the post-WWII (1945 onwards) periods (El-Affendi, 2003). Their dominion over the region has then been augmented by the events that unfolded during the post-cold war periods. The question, however, is whether these historical events have contributed to the situations in the present Asian nations. Does history affect the present Asia? Considering the current political and cultural ideologies that are dominant in the region, one is left wondering whether the colonial influence has a hand in augmenting these effects or not. While some countries within this region have remained culturally attached to that of their Western colonial powers, other countries have shifted focus from these effects and ideologies to embrace the present interests in economic development and nation building

The question of whether or not history helps in understanding the present has been a question of concern among historians and policy makers around the globe. According to (Abu-Hakima, 2004), history is a foregone case and has no influence on the present. The past belongs to the past, and the present has no attachment to it. The question of whether this belief holds water in the context of the present Asian societies is the central focus of this paper as discussed in the subsequent sections. While many people have held to the fact that yesterday’s occurrences can help in understanding today’s mistakes or successes, other people have argued that the present and past events are separated by a huge time gap that that they cannot influence one another. A look at the present and past Asian countries can help us in understanding these facts. Western dominion over the Asian region during the past times changed the ideologies and cultural practice of the people and governments of these regions significantly (Ehteshami & Steven, 2008). The fight for liberation, alongside confusion, and a grope to achieve national cohesion and integration created a suitable leeway for the western nations to extend and colonial powers in the region. Such influences were experienced in the Asian cultures and political ideologies of the time responding to the strong influencing voices of the western countries that colonized these nations.  

Many western powers, majorly the British that colonized a large section of Asia felt that their ways of life, including their education systems, religion, and social integrations were superior to that of the local Asians. Political ideologies, for instance, had a great impact on the political spheres of many Asian communities. These facts resonate well with the international theories that explain the influence of the past colonial powers upon the present world ideologies and cultural mannerisms (Al-Haddad, 2009). The positivists of these theories are predominantly the US while the British have been labeled the negativists to the theories of international relations. The contention between these two extremists is, therefore, the core concern of this paper. The positivists to the theories of international relations cite several factors including cultural influences and the political landscapes, which have been dominated by Western ideologies, including the influence of international policies, as the solid foundations of the facts brought out to justify the theories.  

Until this date, the policies made by the Asian colonial masters significantly influence their relations and political atmospheres. The strong attachment that developed between South Korea, Japan, and the US in the past due to a common interest between the regions has continued to proliferate. The advent of Sir Halford Mackinder’s Heartland theory in 1904 can help in shedding more light on these matters. Considered the father of geopolitics, Mackinder argued that whoever rules Eastern Europe also commands the Heartland. Mackinder used the heartland to refer to central Asia, the world’s island. The Heartland theory dominated the post-WWII and the cold war period. However, most Asian nations today have shifted their goal posts not to focus on the wars between the regional powers to focus on strengthening their borders to resist their enemies next door (Al-Haddad, 2009, January, 4).

The wars in Iraq, Iran, Israel, and Palestine that have lasted for years were not influenced by colonial ideologies, but rather the scramble for resources found within their borders. These cross-border disputes have been in existence before the arrival of the colonial powers. Such events and many others of political, cultural and economic dimensions in the Asian region today, though seem to be motivated by the present ideologies, actually stem from historical events reflecting the political, economic and cultural ideologies that were common in the past (Lewis, 1996). The justification for the fact that history does have a place in controlling the present is therefore justified within this context.

The history of the present Asia can be understood from three main dimensions: political, economic, and cultural dimensions. These three perspectives have continued to dominate ideologies and policy making in the present in various nations within the Asian continent. Historically Asia ruled the world for centuries before the coming of the western powers. Since time immemorial, the Asian nations have been in the forefront regarding ruling the world from a variety of perspectives. The Greece, Medes and Persians, the Syrians and the Roman empires existed long before the coming of the western powers and ruled the world for a long time (). Though political in nature, the powers of the past Asian ruling kingdoms were augmented by massive economic developments in the respective ruling powers. The opposing powers were of moderate economic stance. Cross-border disputes have been in existence in the Asian continents in the historical past (Acharya, 2008). Cultural influences especially based on religious differences have been the central focus of many Asian nations with the tendency of wars and rumors of wars in the region.

Even though a large number of the Asian population subscribe to Islam as the dominant religion in the region, the contention between the Shia and Suni Muslims has been going on from the historical past. The coming of the western powers further augmented the fight between these two warring groups with the western powers capitalizing on these enmities to exploit their courses in the region. As Acharya notes, the emergence of western colonial powers brought on a new enemy from without the region prompting many Asian nations to focus on the new enemy. However, the regional enemies were not forgotten, and they still continue to pursue one another. The constant wars between the east and the west are virtually regulated by the scramble over natural resources endowments in the region. The West, America, and the Britain (Abu-Hakima, 2004) moved into Asia purposely to exploit these resources. After the ejection of Britain from the region, America moved in with similar interests. Political game plans have been in play since then as the Scramble for dominion and control over the region’s resources continue to mount.

The history of the world is tied together in a complex manner driven by a variety of factors both regional and international. The past wars controlled by the regional politics, which played a central role in determining the dominant powers and their courses of actions. Today, international politics between the east and the west play a significant role in influencing political ideologies in the East, as well as those in the west. Even though some people have argued that historical events have no influence on the present, present events and ideologies in the context of the Asian nations reflect largely, the historical phenomena that dominated the past events. Regarding these factors, the history of Asia can be understood from three major perspectives: political, economic, and cultural dimensions.

Brief survey of the GCC democracies

A large section of the Muslim societies have shown just minimal or in many occasions no intentions to adopt democracy in their governance systems. Al-Haddad, (2009) carried out a research to determine the level of democracy within the GCC regions. The research constituted of up to 53 states forming the Gulf Countries Council (GCC). His findings confirmed the assertions of Robert, (2000), who said that only Turkey can be said to have passed the Huntington’s criteria for classifying political democracy. Huntington’s classification has bee n used in classifying democracies in various countries. A country is considered democratic if it has held at least two consecutive elections conducted on a free and fair basis and that have led to a successful and peaceful transition of power between two contesting candidates. From a total of 53 countries investigated, only Turkey qualified the classification. Robert, (2000) records that Turkey’s democracy is a currently under siege and is raising more questions than answer based on its sustainability into the future. Besides, Robert, (2000) has carried out a systematic comparison of the states outside the GCC states based on the extent of political democracies exercised between single tribal states and the other states comprising of both the Sunni and the Shia communities. Out of 193 GCC states, 118 (60%) have entrenched strong democratic systems of ruling and power transitions through peaceful, free, fair and democratic elections. Compared to pure 46 GCC states, the findings indicate that 9 (9%) have entrenched strong electoral democracies.      

Freedom House categorized countries into democratic and not democratic. The classification gives scores to countries on a scale of 1-7 with 7 representing the worst political rulings and poorest democratic events. Freedom House grouping follows the trend: 1 – 2.5 representing Free states (democratic), 3 – 5 representing partially free (partially democratic) and 5 – 7 non- Free nations (undemocratic or authoritarian countries). Based on Freedom House classification, Dresch & James, (2005) developed a trend in the transition system among the GCC countries using the classification. This survey was dated back to 1972 as shown in Table 1. Drawing on the classification, GCC states under democratic as well as Free States decreases with due to certain factors. While religion plays a very critical role in determining the systems of governance in the GCC states, other factors including the distinctions between the ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’, and the ‘sacred law’ and ‘secular laws’ continue to influence political decisions in the region. 

Table 1: classification ratios of GCC countries as free, partially free and non-free countries

Source: Al-Haddad, (2009, January, 4)

GCC’s political compatibility with democracy

            Questions on the GCC’s political ideologies compatibility with democracy have been raised a series by people from different quarters. The controversy has resulted into serious divisions amid contestants into two extremes of those supporting democracy and those opposing it. In an attempt to support or reject these claims, we will look at aspects of the political governance related to democracy. According to Dresch & James, (2005), three main classical or procedures exist through which governance or leadership in the GCC states is relinquished to the next cadre of leardership: shura, istikhlaf (nomination of successors by ailing rulers) and ghalaba (nomination of leaders through force. Successful candidates suppress and subdue all political rivals to access leadership). The three systems of government succession are still commonly evident in the majority of the GCC countries.

Shura: participatory governance in Islam

            Shura is an Arabic connotation translated directly as ‘consultation.’ The term is applied in the Islamic political governance to mean a system of governance where deliberations are conducted amid the ruling elite and the subjects to develop an opinion over certain factors with common goal of coming developing a unanimous conclusion (Marina, 2003). The GCC’s use of Shura can be traced to the verses of the al-shura and al-‘Imran chapters found in the Quran. Several commands relating shura to governance are also in the hadiths of famous Muslim scholars and Muhammad’s systems of decision-making and leadership. In consideration of all these facts, majority of the GCC jurists and contemporary analysts see shura a fard as an Islamic obligation (Abu-Hakima, 2004).

These beliefs are still apprehended by GCC leadership. As Dresch & James, (2005) records, ahl al-hall are not elected. In most GCC nations, leadership is changed from generation to generation through the help of the powerful people in the society. This is evident in GCC countries such as Egypt where opposition is met with utmost resistance. The same case is seen in several other Muslim states, e.g. those in the Middle East. On various occasions, the ruling class suppresses attempts of all opposing persons to rule. Such instances are evident in Iraq where Sadam Hussein exercised utmost authority and carried out the murder of several people were opposed his ruling regime. Similar events were witnessed in Syria where Al Assad family has been ruling with an iron fist for decades (Lakoff, 2004). 

Even though different Muslim jurists and theologians attests to the fact that the number of votes cast during an election should be the ultimate decisive factor while determining the leadership of the GCC countries, there is no specific definition of the participants’ voters liable for the endorsement process. It is based on the aforementioned factors that Dresch & James, (2005) maintains the fact that political leaders in the GCC worlds are entrenched in leadership by the powerful members of the society and maintained through suppression oppression of the contrary voices. This notation clarified the beliefs of several other Islamic jurists who subscribe to the belief that crucial matters in the society are achieved through a combination of strength and theological knowledge backing the decision makers. On many occasions, those in this school of thought have held the day compared to those proposing the majority vote counting as the major decisive factor.           


In conclusion, I would like to denote here that political democracy involves considering the voice of the people to be the dominant factor that governs decision-making processes taking place in various sectors of the society. Two categories of democratic manifestation are evident in the GCC region. These are liberal democracy and electoral democracy. The questions about the democracy of the GCC countries are increasingly becoming popular among the majority of the world’s populace. The GCC democracy has been subjected to a lot of question especially in the recent past, considering the manner in which governance is carried out in these regions. This is due to the ways of political and leadership changes exercised in various Islamic nations around the globe. Dictatorship and the minority rule composed of the elite families have continued to undermine democracy and the legal rights of various individuals in these GCC nations.


Abu-Hakima, A. M. (2004). The Modern History of Kuwait 1750-1965 (3rd ed.). London: Westerham Press.

Acharya, A. (2008). Theoretical Perspectives on International Relations in Asia. In S. David, & M. Yahuda, International Relations of Asia. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Ahmet, T. K. Secularism and State Policies toward Religion: The United States, France, and Turkey2009. New York:: Cambridge University Press.

Al Abed, I., & Peter, H. (2001). The United Arab Emirates: A New Perspective. Abu Dhabi: Trident Press.

Al-Haddad, M. (2009, January, 4). Tribe, Tribalism and Cultural Change in Kuwait. Kuwait: the AWARE Center, Surra.

Al-Mutaz, I. S. (2001). The Continued Challenge of Capacity Building in Desalination. Desalination, 141, 145-156.

Al-Zubi, A. Z. (1999). Urbanization, Tribalism, and Tribal Marriage in Contemporary Kuwait. Ph.D. diss.

Amer, K. M. (2006). Policy Perspectives for Ecosystem and Water Management in the Arabian Peninsula. Hamilton: United Nations University Press.

Blair, S. S., & Jonathan, M. B. (2009). Rivers of Paradise: Water in Islamic Art and Culture. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Çaha, Ö. (2003). Islam and Democracy: A Theoretical Discussion on the Compatibility of Islam and Democracy,” Alternatives. Turkish Journal of International Relations, 2 (2-3), 106-134.

Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait/MEEW. (2005). Water and Electricity in the State of Kuwait: Story and Progress. Kuwait: Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait.

Dresch, P., & James, P. (2005). Monarchies and Nations: Globalisation and Identity in the Arab States of the Gulf, London: I. B. Tauris.

Ehteshami, A., & Steven, W. (2008). Reform in the Middle East Oil Monarchies. United Kingdom: Ithaca Press.

El-Affendi, A. (2003). What is Liberal Islam? The Elusive Reformation. Journal of Democracy, 14 (4), 34-39.

Lakoff, S. (2004). The Reality of Muslim Exceptionalism. Journal of Democracy, 15 (4), 131-139.

Lewis, B. (1996). Islam and Liberal Democracy: A Historical Overview. Journal of Democracy, 7 (2), 52-63.

Li, M. (2008). China Debates Soft Power. Chinese Journal of International Politics, 2 (2), 287–308.

Marina, O. (2003). Democracy Challenged: The Rise of Semi-Authoritarianism. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Masmoudi, R. A. (2003). What is Liberal Islam? The Silenced Majority. Journal of Democracy, 14 (2), 40-44.

Mohammed, A. (2007). The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Nader, H. (2009). Islam, Secularism, and Liberal Democracy: Toward a Democratic Theory for Muslim Societies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Robert, W. H. (2000). Civil Islam: Muslims and Democratization in Indonesia. Princeton: Princeton University Press.