Commentary

GCC Must Reunite to Face ISIS

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has issued a call for a concerted effort to tackle the ever-increasing threat of the Islamic State in its immediate neighborhood and beyond.  Secretary Kerry’s invitation has received an especially warm reception among the Gulf Cooperation Council member states—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE, Kuwait, and Oman—who now find themselves on the front lines of the struggle against the rising tide of ISIS support. There is now a clear understanding that an effective response against ISIS implies closer cooperation among the various member states. Considering the tensions that have been brewing over the last year between Qatar and the rest of the member states over the former’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood, such close cooperation is not a foregone conclusion.

 According to an AFP report published by the Peninsula newspaper, the initial reaction has indeed been encouraging with all six members of the GCC stating that they were “ready to act ‘against terrorist threats that face the region and the world’. The GCC foreign ministers also pledged a readiness to fight ‘terrorist ideology which is contrary to Islam’. Kerry, in an op-ed published on Friday in the New York Times, said Washington would submit a plan to deal with the jihadists at the Security Council in September.”

 But Secretary Kerry is not the only one calling for a joint response and closer cooperation. In a recent op-ed for the Kuwait Times, Shamlan Y Al-Essa also makes a strong case for joint GCC action, urging them to put aside their differences: “Everybody knows that the Gulf countries are the cradle of terrorism through their extreme exclusionary ideology, their financing of terror groups and their supplying of young men as recruits for these organizations. Why do we not criticize ourselves and admit our shortcomings in dealing with this phenomenon, and put an end to it....It is a shameful matter that the Gulf countries differ in their stands and instead incite clergymen against their khaleeji brothers and allies in the West. We, the people of the region, feel strange in our countries. We are lost, not knowing where our governments are going in their war against terrorism. You, Gulf rulers, must unite, because the coming dangers are much larger than you imagine.”

 Similarly, a Gulf Times editorial welcomes the declaration of the GCC resulting from the meeting of the six foreign ministers, adding: “Undoubtedly, the Islamic State is a clear and present danger, operating across borders. Despite lightning gains made in war-torn Syria and fragmenting Iraq, the projected threat of the IS, extending its geographical reach beyond those borders, looks far too unfounded as of now. But its ideology can....With a militant outfit - which is seen as a bigger threat to Muslims than the West, at least in the short term - gaining in strength and appeal across the region, Gulf countries need to be on a high alert.”

 UAE government officials have also tried to expand the circle of those who would and ought to contribute to the effort to uproot the Islamic State. Statements coming from the UAE and reported by the Khaleej Times indicate that UAE officials would like to see countries like Somalia and Yemen also take part: “A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the eve of a NATO summit in Wales, UK, said the UAE condemns all kinds of indiscriminate violence and destruction, including mass executions, expulsions, and the abduction and enslavement of innocent women and children....The ministry stressed that an international undertaking ought to apply to other regional countries as well, including Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan that also suffer from the radical ideology and incitement to violence emanating from the ISIS and Al Qaeda.”

 Pushing back suggestions that the Gulf states are cooperating out of fear for their own survival, Asharq Alawsat’s Abdulrahman Al-Rashed offers what he believes is the real reason why the GCC has decided to act in unison: “Over the past few days, it has been said that the Gulf states have been compelled to put their disputes aside out of fear of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Has this terrorist organization’s threat reached the extent that it is capable of ending the Gulf’s disputes? And is ISIS really capable of threatening the capitals of these states? Of course, no one familiar with the region could believe this could happen, unless they were clueless about its political developments....The Gulf states’ current crisis stems from the fact they are fighting among themselves for influence over a vast geographic area, stretching from Syria to Mauritania. However, even if one Gulf state emerges victorious over another, it’s still a pyrrhic victory, because Gulf states are not global superpowers that can turn these victories into spheres of influence where they can expand their interests.”

 As a recent op-ed by Arab Times’ Ahmed Al-Jarallah indicates, amidst all the talk about cooperation, there are those who still point the finger at Qatar for not doing enough to either combat extremism or to forge closer ties with the rest of the GCC member states: “GCC countries have divergent opinions on certain issues but this has never pushed them to the brink of collapse. They have never regarded such issues as points of division because they normally toe the healthy path to reach a clearer vision for comprehensive solutions. This fact is what our brothers in Doha are expected to consider, as they seem to be risking the time factor in making the mirage a reality while fire is moving closer to the house....The GCC countries are still extending the olive branch to Qatar. The point here is the realization that croaking outside the flock should not turn into destruction of an area, because such a sound has never delighted anybody in history.”

 But the battle against the Islamic State and their allies across the region is not fought only on the battlefield. In fact, Mohamed Selim argues in a recent op-ed for the Daily News Egypt that it is the ideological battle that counts in the long run: “Why should Muslims be divided into various Islamist splinter groups to the likes of MBs, Salafis, Sufis, and now Da’ishies (ISIS affiliates), while the Azharites, ie Al-Azhar alumnae (who have for ages represented Islam in the west) are engaged in their own selfish battles  currying favours with that head-of-state or the other? Mosques in Europe and the Arab World have been prey to radical infiltration in the past decades, which have inculcated its followers with a new form of Islam, one that cannot be impugned and believes in violence as the one and only way to impose an incorrect version of Sharia…. Al-Azhar’s crisis is part-and-parcel of Islam’s current predicament. It has failed to renew its religious discourse, and is unable to successfully recruit more moderate Muslims to join its ranks and get imbued with a reasonable version of the religion that forbids hate-speech, violence and annihilation.”

 Finally, there are those who caution against forgetting the excesses and violence of the Assad regime in Syria. A recent The National editorial, for example, ties the rise of the Islamic State with the violence of the Assad regime, arguing that the reason why the atrocities committed by the Syrian regime have: “not been forgotten not simply because of our belief that Bashar Al Assad should leave power, but because by his actions he has made the Gulf and its allies less safe. The wave of refugees from Syria threatens Jordan. The civil war in Syria threatened Iraq and allowed ISIL to breed. For the sake of political expediency, it would be easy to work with the Assad regime to combat the threat of ISIL. But both, in truth, are threats to the Gulf. The Middle East needs to be rid of both.”