Leaders of the GCC countries have concluded a summit in Riyadh after failing to make progress on proposed moves towards closer political ties between the six member countries.
Following the meeting on 14 May, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, said a study on closer ties had been launched but that “the aim is for all countries to join, not just two or three”.
The statement has been seen as a disappointment by many observers, who had expected the summit to end with moves towards a political union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, that would pave the way for other countries to join in the future. In the past few months, several senior Bahraini government figures had suggested that the two countries were close to agreeing a deal to cooperate on security on foreign affairs.
“It seems that the GCC is split on the prospects of further integration,” says Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, research fellow at the London School of Economics and a Middle East specialist.
Links between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have increased over the past year, after Saudi troops were sent into Bahrain to help crush a Shia-led pro-democracy movement. The failure to move forward on the union plan illustrates that Saudi Arabia may be reluctant to formalise its influence over its restive neighbour.
“Saudi Arabia already has political and economic leverage over Bahrain and a restive Shia population of their own to worry about,” says Ulrichsen.
The plan for a closer union of GCC states was first proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in December 2011. Since then several senior Bahrainis have talked up the proposals, although other members have been more reticent.
“Integration of the GCC, whether it be monetary union or political integration, is a work in progress that will not move anywhere very quickly,” says one regional analyst.