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Bahrain Crisis and Its Impact on Iran’s Relations to (P)GCC

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ali Akbar Asadi, PhD Candidate
Department of International Relations, University of Allameh Tabatabaei

As a result of the recent popular uprisings in the Arab world which have started since last February, Bahrain, as one of the six members of the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council [(P)GCC], has been experiencing a profound crisis in view of its historical and structural features. The crisis and its aftermath have transcended the country’s borders and have gained regional importance. As a result of that crisis, all member states of the Council have taken a unified stance against Iran. As such, the crisis in Bahrain has had important effects on relations between Iran, as an influential player in Bahrain, and the (P)GCC. Due to importance of relations with (P)GCC in Iran’s foreign policy approaches to littoral states of the Persian Gulf, and their impact on political and security conditions in that region, the main question here is how the crisis in Bahrain may affect Iran’s relations with (P)GCC and what future outlook is conceivable for those relations? Here, we will discuss the impact of the crisis in Bahrain on those relations and their future outlook.

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the (P)Gulf Cooperation Council, to which Bahrain is a member, pursue opposing goals in Bahrain and this will no doubt leave its mark on bilateral relations. Of course, relations between Iran and (P)GCC have been already negatively affected by the two sides’ interactions in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Due to special coordinates of the crisis in Bahrain, including geographic propinquity to Iran, direct impact on Iran’s security and political interests, and determining effect on the power balance in the Persian Gulf region, that crisis has had more profound effects on both sides’ approaches and relations. Iran has lent its support to Bahraini protestors and has urged that the government should heed its people’s demands and protect their interests. Later on, Tehran raised vehement protest to the suppression of Bahraini protestors by Al-e Khalifa regime, especially invasion of Bahrain by the armed forces of Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In return, member states of (P)GCC, led by Saudi Arabia, have totally taken sides with Al-e Khalifa regime and provided all-out political, military and economic support for that regime.

The (P)GCC opposes any form of political change and reforms in Bahrain as it will be a direct threat to other political systems on the southern rim of the Persian Gulf. Therefore, they are against fundamental changes in that country as a result of the ongoing popular uprising.

Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has by no means interfered in Bahrain’s affairs and only supported the opposition after domestic protests soared due to policies and conditions in that country, the (P)GCC has focused a large part of its political, diplomatic, and even propaganda efforts on Iran. Member states of the council have tried to prove that the protests in Bahrain are of ethnic nature and will lead to increased influence of Iran in regional countries.

As a result, they have been able to mobilize all resources of regional and international players in support of Al-e Khalifa regime and keep the protests at bay. Such measures also aimed to attract the West’s, especially the US’, support for Al-e Khalifa and prevent any important political change in Bahrain and have been relatively successful. Despite the openly aggressive attitude of (P)GCC, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been trying to contact more moderate countries such as Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait through diplomatic channels. Tehran aims to both encourage them change their foreign policy approaches to Bahrain’s crisis, and reduce the current tension in relations. The crisis of Bahrain, however, is still a source of tension in Iran’s relations with (P)GCC due to importance of its consequences for Iran’s and (P)GCC’s foreign policies and regional interests, continued conflict in the two sides’ interests in Bahrain, and absence of a middle way which could lead to resolution of the crisis.

As for the outlook of Iran’s relations with (P)GCC under the influence of crisis in Bahrain, one may point to different components which play a role in this regard. The course of developments in Bahrain, the attitudes and policies adopted by Iran and (P)GCC in dealing with crisis in Bahrain, and international developments are among the most important of those components. The existing evidence proves that there is no domestic, regional and international determination to put an end to the crisis through peaceful means. Therefore, a possible scenario is continuation and even worsening of crisis in Bahrain which will further exacerbate the existing tension between Iran and member countries of (P)GCC. To promote a win-win game and give up the existing win-lose game in which each side seeks to defeat the opposite side can provide the sole way out of the current critical conditions and prevent further negative impact on Iran’s relations with (P)GCC. A middle option which would both guarantee political and social rights of Bahraini people and dispel the other side’s concerns can constitute a starting point for finding a solution of the crisis.

More By Ali Akbar Asadi:

*Challenges of US Military Presence in Iraq: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Challenges_of_US_Military_Presence_in_Iraq.htm

*Crisis in (P)GCC: Why Bahrain?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Crisis_in_P_GCC_Why_Bahrain_.htm

*Bahrain Developments: Saudi Arabia’s Considerations: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Bahrain_Developments_Saudi_Arabia’s_Considerations.htm

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