For a long time in human history, the Middle East region has had substantial intensities of geopolitical significance and, therefore, had considerable levels of global interest and great tension (Commins, 2012). Particularly, the region has had many issues, including political, socioeconomic, and religious aspects that significantly contribute to the apparent international attention. For instance, the gulf area has continually remained a vital international trade route linking the Middle East and other regions, including Africa, Europe, and other Asia (Bo & Zhen, 2014; Barnwell, 2013; Cooper, 2012).
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Some of the interesting elements in the Middle East include the modern history of the rise of the Gulf States and their evident strategic socioeconomic importance to the neighboring regions and the world (Cooke, 2014; Commins, 2012). The rise of the Middle East was significantly evident in the 1960s-1970s when oil the exploitation transformed the livelihood of people from the U.A.E, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait from the archaic fishermen/nomads/pearl divers to societies that could comfortably and effectively interact and compete with the modernized world (Cooke, 2014). Apparently, the transformation had significant socioeconomic and political implications in the region and the world.
This paper discusses the modern history of the rise of the Middle East (giving significant attention to the Gulf States). Moreover, the significance of the rise of the Gulf States on regional stability and the consequent implications for other states and regions globally. Finally, the paper endeavors to argue for the rise of the Gulf States as the reason for the stability in the Middle East relative to the surrounding countries, including Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.
As such, the paper is based on the thesis; the rise of Gulf States since the 1960s and 1970s had grown more important to the stability of the Middle East than the states that experience critical conflicts in the Middle East.
A Brief Historical Background before the Formation of the Gulf States
The Middle East region has a very rich and a relatively long history dating back to the medieval period (Barnwell, 2013), but the most critical time that could be linked to its transformation is the mid-17th century when the European powers, including Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and France demonstrated their interests (Commins, 2012).
It is worth noting that the key economic activities prior to the rise of the Gulf States included fishing, trade, pearling, boat making, and nomadic pastoralism (Commins, 2012; Cooke, 2014).
Britain was successful in colonizing a considerable part of the gulf region and it controlled the major of the economic activities. A notable economic activity that is associated with the British colonization in the Middle East is the discovery of oil in the early 20th century (Bo & Zhen, 2014; Cooke, 2014). The exploitation of oil is considered a major breakthrough in the region’s economy and the intensified global interest (Cooper, 2012; Barnwell, 2013).
Concerning regional stability, the British set a worthy example. The British rulers were comprehensively strategic in ensuring that the Middle East region was politically and economically stable (Bo & Zhen, 2014; Onley, 2009; Smith, 2016). For instance, they reinforced the Sultan’s control over the Oman Gulf when they were skeptical of Saudi dominance (Onley, 2009).
Nevertheless, Britain withdrew from the region in the 1970s and this marked the onset of the transformation in the Middle East and the rise of the Gulf States (Commins, 2012; Smith, 2016; Peterson, 2014).
The Rise of the Gulf States in the 1960s and 1970s
Pundits have termed the rise of the Gulf States as phenomenal with writers such as Cooke (2014) terming the region as one of the most torrid and hostile regions to have risen and attracted global attention (Cooke, 2014).
As mentioned earlier, the departure of the European colonial rule in the 1970s was a turning point for the gulf region, especially with the tremendously growing wealth for the relatively poor local tribes and the expression of the US to consider the Middle East in its international relations policies (Cooper, 2012; Smith, 2016). As stated previously in this paper, traditional industries were quickly replaced by petroleum exploitation and related trade. As a result, the transformation was evident with modern cities sprouting out of the hostile Arabian Desert and along the coastlines (Barnwell, 2013; Bo & Zhen, 2014).
Owen (2016) described the phenomenon as “the rapid accumulation of enormous financial resources by eight of the ten Arab oil exporters” (par. 8). For instance, the Saudi Arabian GDP realized an increase of more than 1000%. The UAE, Kuwait, and Libya realized increases in GDP by 800%, 400%, and 400% respectively (Owen, 2016).
Other than the economic growth, political development was evident in the 1970s when local leaders with tribal disposition transformed to modern emperors ruling over small political jurisdictions based on common ethnicity and ancestral history (Barnwell, 2013; Bo & Zhen, 2014; Chauvin, 2010).
The wake of the establishment of the Gulf States was characterized by the drawing of political boundaries (Barnwell, 2013). It is, however, worth noting that the tribal inclinations greatly influenced the marking of the political boundaries in the Gulf region. It could be argued that the tribal/ethnical characteristics played a crucial role in the cohesion of the citizens and the rise of the Gulf States and consequently fostering internal stability (Barnwell, 2013; Commins, 2012).
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One of the outstanding Gulf States that was established in the 1970s and had significant positive implications for the stability of the Middle East in the UAE. The formation of the UAE involved the coming together of seven emirates (six in 1971 and the seventh in 1972) (Bo & Zhen, 2014). It is worth noting that it was the creation of the UAE and the attaining of independence of the other Gulf States that initiated the regional corporation (Bo & Zhen, 2014).
The cooperation among the Gulf States was strategically instigated to address key concerns such as regional security, monarchical political systems, and energy and oil-related issues (Cooper, 2012; Barnwell, 2013).
Moreover, it is worth noting that addressing these issues, especially matters concerning energy and oil had international implications. Many international players, especially the US, were majorly interested in the oil industry and the regional socio-political stability (Bo & Zhen, 2014; Cooper, 2012).
The US Interest and its Influence in the Gulf Region
The entrance of the US followed the withdrawal of Britain from the gulf region. It was argued that the Britain exit would lead to a regional power vacuum and apparent instability was looming (Cooper, 2012; Smith, 2016). There was, therefore, the need to have a strong influence from external forces, who would shape the leadership and ensure the political, economic, and security stability of the Gulf region and the Middle East (Cooper, 2012).
It is imperative to note that stability in the Gulf States and the Middle East would have positive implications in other regions in the world. The US government, therefore, deemed it fit to express control over the Gulf States (Bo & Zhen, 2014; Cooper, 2012). Cooper (2012) portrayed the role of the US and the Gulf States as a critical element that influenced the socio-political arena in the MENA region since the 1970s and that has had relative success in maintaining stability.
Countries Facing Crisis Conflicts in the Arab World and their Inability to Sustain Regional Stability
For a considerable time in history, Egypt has been considered the political and economic leader in the MENA region and the Arab world (Monier & Ranko, 2013; Sorenson, 2011; Chauvin, 2010). However, Egypt has faced major catastrophes that have made it incapable of maintaining national and regional political and/or economic stability.
First, the post-cold war era brought paradigm shifts in the leadership arena where the focus Middle East and North African region gave more prominence to geo-economic relative geopolitics (Chauvin, 2010). This resulted in Saudi Arabia overtaking Egypt and taking a critical place in the global arena as a representative of the MENA region and, therefore, taking the role of stabilizing the region (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Second Egypt has faced numerous political upheavals. Starting from the 1951 army overthrow of political leaders, many Egyptian presidents have been overthrown leading to internal instabilities (Chauvin, 2010). With internal political instabilities, it is almost impossible for a country to provide stability in the region and the globe (Sorenson, 2011; Chauvin, 2010). It is, therefore, correct to argue that the rise of the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia significantly bridged the gap and the vacuum that was eminent with the fall of Egypt as the MENA region leader.
Syria, on the other hand, has been an integral player in Arab politics for a long time in history, particularly during extreme socio-political and ideological competitions, which are associated with regional tension and possible instabilities (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
The leading position that Syria had earlier enjoyed could be linked to its strategic geographic location. It is worth noting that Syria is situated two traditional headquarters of MENA region influence, which are Egypt and Iraq (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Moreover, Syria has been considered a heartland of the regional culture and Arab nationalism. With such leveraging factors, Syria was in the greatest position to foster and maintain regional stability (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Nevertheless, the rising Gulf States overtook Syria in promoting stability in the MENA region. Syria has faced overwhelming challenges that have rendered her ineffective in contributing to regional stability. It is imperative to note that Syria has been under the political leadership of one dynasty, the Al Assad family, for a considerable time in history. The Assad family regime began in the early 1970s when the Gulf States were increasingly on the rise (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Apparently, the one family rule has faced considerable resistance and opposition from activists due to the violation of human rights among other issues. Moreover, Syria rulers faced threats and attacks from religious extremists groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, the rulers through the military ruthlessly attacked the dissenters (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Demir Rijnoveanu (2013) portrayed the Syrian crisis as both an effect and a cause of instability in the MENA region. As such, Syria is a victim of the socio-political volatility in the region and can as well be a threat to regional stability. Therefore, the Gulf States are in a relatively better position to foster regional and global stability relative to Syria (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
Jordan is more of a victim of the instability witnessed in the Middle East than a solution provider (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013). Other than having internal political chaos, Jordan has witnessed crises that have emanated from the instability in Syria and other Middle East countries. For instance, Jordan has seen influxes of refugees, a situation that has negative socioeconomic implications (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
The Future of the stability of the MENA Region
Currently, the socioeconomic and political issues in the Gulf region still pose great threats to regional and global stability (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013; Monier & Ranko, 2013). For instance, the extremist religious ideological movements continue to challenge the leadership of some countries in the region. Moreover, anti-west and anti-democracy ideological terrorist groups are still a cause of crises (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
The future of the Middle East is, therefore, dependent on the Gulf States and other global players. Major powers such as the US and Russia together with organizations such as the UN should work together to ensure that the MENA region is stable (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013; Cooper, 2012).
Particularly, Russia and Turkey (which are in the best positions to promote stability in the region due to its apparent influence in Iran and Syria) are critical in the determination of the regional stability and, therefore, they should focus on strategizing on approaches to dealing with dissenters and addressing religious radicalism (Demir & Rijnoveanu, 2013).
The gulf region has been the focus of interest of many nations in the world for a long time in history. Initially, the region was a key trading route connecting major regions, including North Africa, Asia, and Europe. Consequently, many nations have taken control of the region, including Britain’s colonization.
It is worth noting that the development in modern history has intensified the global interest in the region. Particularly, the discovery of oil and the subsequent economic development considerably augmented the level of significance of the MENA region.
Moreover, is apparent that the significant regional and global has been the cause of crises. As such, the region has been the hotbed political instabilities that have huge socioeconomic implications.
Therefore, fostering regional stability is vital. Maintaining the stability of such a region is a complicated endeavor that requires plenty of resources and strategic planning. As such, not all nations are capable of fostering stability in the MENA region.
This paper has proposed that the rise of the Gulf States in the 1960s and the 1970s was critically significant in regional stability.
The Gulf States, which include the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, developed drastically in a critical time when the British government had withdrawn from ruling the region and when the geo-economics ideologies had taken a shift. With the help of the US and other international bodies, the Gulf States have endeavored to ensure that the region is stable.
On the other hand, countries such as Egypt, Syria, and Jordan have faced insurmountable challenges, including political upheavals and socioeconomic issues that as rendered them more of victims rather than solution providers to the instability of the MENA region.
Therefore, comparing the Gulf States and other countries in the region that face crises, it is apparent that the earlier is more effective in fostering regional and global stability than the latter.
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