According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will weigh closer political union at a summit of Gulf Arab leaders on Monday aimed at pooling efforts to neutralize Shi’ite Muslim protests in the region that they believe is instigated by Iran, a charge Iran denies.
“Sovereignty will remain with each of the countries and they would remain as U.N. members but they would unite in decisions regarding foreign relations, security, military and economy.” Samira Rajab, minister of state for information affairs, said on Sunday, Associated press reported.
The tiny island state, which like other GCC members is ruled by a pro-U.S. The GCC includes Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Sunni dynasty, has been wracked by a revolt among its majority Shi’ites for more than a year, after temporarily suppressing it in March 2011 with the help of Saudi troops.
Riyadh fears that Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement has the potential to spill over into its own Shi’ite-populated Eastern Province region, home to major oilfields.
The aim of the Saudi regime in the future is the exclusion of Shi’ites in Bahrain,” senior opposition Wefaq official Jasim Husain said on Sunday. “Any agreement must get the people’s approval,” he added.
Some Gulf analysts say smaller GCC members are averse to further integration, fearing a loss of sovereignty and influence in a region of traditional feuds, politicians from Bahrain have speculated about a confederation with Saudi Arabia.
Analysts say that by joining up with Bahrain, Saudi Arabia would gain more control over its tiny neighbor’s security and send a message of Sunni Arab unity to Iran.
However, not all Saudis think integration is a good idea. “If we join with Bahrain we risk importing their problems,” said Abdullah al-Shammari, a Saudi political analyst.
While, with its Fifth Fleet in Manama, the United States sees Bahrain’s Al Khalifa family as an ally in stemming Iranian influence in the Gulf, even though Washington has not said it believes that Iran is behind unrest in the kingdom.
On the other side, Iranian media reacted the plan. “Saudi Arabia’s aim in legally occupying Bahrain is to stop the influence of Shi’ites – the majority of the island – on the Shi’ite residents in the eastern regions of Saudi,” the semi-official Mehr news agency said.
Also, The Washington Post reported, in Tehran, about 190 lawmakers — more than half Iran’s parliament — issued a statement condemning the union plans.
“This will relay Bahrain’s crisis to Saudi Arabia and drive the region toward more unrest. It will add to the problems,” said the statement, which was read on Iranian state radio.
CNN noted that Iran is also engaged in a longtime border dispute with the UAE over three Persian Gulf islands; Abu Mousa, and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The UAE says Iran has illegally occupied the islands. Iran views them as part of its territory.
In this climate, comes the GCC move to form a union.
Furthermore, Chicago Tribune indicated that Gulf leaders also fear the Arab uprisings last year created more opportunities for al Qaeda to gain a foothold in Yemen, where the discovery of another alleged bomb plot was revealed last week.
On the other hand, some members of the GCC fear a closer union might grant too much sway to the body’s largest member, Saudi Arabia.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL quoted Tawfiq al Saif, a Shiite political and human-rights activist in the eastern Saudi city of Qatif as saying, “Bahrain is ahead of Saudi Arabia in terms of political tradition and public freedom, it could help Saudi society to be more open.”
The Arab Spring uprisings have been a challenge for Gulf rulers. Saudi Arabia took action to stop the spread of unrest to Bahrain after being shocked to see Hosni Mubarak fall in Egypt without American intervention to save him, Reuters noted.
Meanwhile, Gulf Arab states said Monday they would delay any decisions on proposals for closer political and security ties, showing possible signs of internal discord over measures portrayed as potential shields against regional rival Iran and pro-reform challenges inspired by the Arab Spring, The Washington Post said.