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View of Dubai, UAE, April 19, 2014 (photo by Flickr user paolomargari licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

For Gulf States, Forging National Identity Trumps Regional Integration

Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015

Since launching the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman have pursued dual and sometimes dueling objectives. Collectively the six countries profess to share the strategic goal of integrating their economic, security and even political policies. But individually, each of these relatively young states continues to place a high priority on forging and shoring up a national identity.

During my recent visit to the UAE for the second annual Emirates Policy Center Strategic Forum, the subtle tension between these regional and national goals was on display. While the forum was a showpiece for the foreign policy of the UAE, it often invoked the shared concerns and capabilities of the GCC as a collective, and experts from the other GCC states were active participants. Enduring concerns about Iran and extremism have for the most part brought the countries of the GCC closer together in recent years. But UAE officials do not shy away from expressing their particular point of view, naming Egypt and Saudi Arabia as the countries that are most vital to regional stability, and asserting a forceful, but not universally shared, hard-line position on political Islam. So while Saudi Arabia has softened its approach to the Muslim Brotherhood under King Salman in order to foster pan-Sunni solidarity, the UAE still considers political Islam in any form unacceptable, seeing it as a slippery slope that leads to extremism. ...

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