Can a Military Coup Occur in the GCC Countries?
BY: MOUNZER SLEIMAN PhD
A Guide to the Military Coup
Earlier this year, an unsuccessful military coup was staged in Qatar against the US-backed Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, according to Saudi-financed Al-Arabiya TV channel” April 17, 2012. Furthermore, a number of high-ranking military officers rose against the Qatari Emir, it added, triggering fierce clashes between some 30 military officers and US-backed royal guards outside the Emir’s palace. The coup was foiled following the arrest of the officers involved. American helicopters have reportedly transferred the Qatari Emir and his wife to an unknown location. Meanwhile, informed Kuwaiti sources said that mediated recent disputes between Saudi Arabia and Qatar have unveiled a new series of disagreements between the officials of the two Persian Gulf states. The revelation of Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani’s secret phone conversation on the internet intensified internal conflicts between the two Arab states. In a telephone conversation, the Qatari premier envisioned a definite overthrow of the Saudi regime, saying Qatar will step in the al-Qatif and al-Sharqiya regions one day and Saudi Arabia will be disintegrated (Ibid). The Qatari Emir came to power following a US-backed coup against his father in 1995.
This news has been reported by “The News Tribe” website on April 17, 2012. There are rumors that this site has association with former U.S. intelligence officers. The scenario advanced by the story could not be verified but the rumors continued lately after reports of deteriorating health conditions of the Emir. (http://www.thenewstribe.com/2012/04/17/attempted-military-coup-against-qatari-regime-fails/ )
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), in August 26, 2012, highlighted new health concerns of the Saudi Monarch and the royal family. They note, “Having Crown Prince Salman stand in for the monarch is no particular relief. Although he serves as defense minister and is, at seventy-six, significantly younger than Abdullah, some have expressed concerns about his own health and his ability to focus on detail. An additional worry is that the House of Saud has no obvious crown-prince-in-waiting behind him. The need for such a candidate has become more urgent in the past year given the deaths of no fewer than two crown princes. Saudi foreign policy capacity is already strained due to the ill health of longtime foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. In his absence, the kingdom is being represented at this week’s Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran by the king’s son and deputy foreign minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah.”
The uncertainty surrounding the transition to a new and young generation of rulers in Saudi Arabia raises the possibility of non-peaceful or orderly change of power, including military takeover.
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, with the exception of protests in Bahrain and Oman, have largely escaped the popular uprisings which swept across Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya and Yemen throughout the first half of 2011.
Demonstrations in Bahrain were brutally put down with Saudi military help, however, some continued sporadically. Across the narrow water way separating the two countries, a series of confrontations occurred in the city of Qatif (eastern coast) between local residents and Saudi security forces. Its residents have long suffered repression and neglect, reflecting discontent with the dire economic conditions. This situation might also have been fueled by the clashes in Bahrain, to the east, where a similar situation is prevailing.
According to a report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, the sweeping unrest has forced the GCC governments to spend $150 billion, in the first half of 2011, to appease widespread discontent of its populations.
Clear signs of unrest are evident in the GCC states. They have vast populations of underpaid workers, from Pakistan and India, and are governed by ruling families with little consideration for democracy. Bahrain has a Sunni ruling family, but the majority of its citizens are Shi’a. Saudi Arabia has a repressive regime ruled by old and ailing sons of the nation’s founder Ibn Saud. Furthermore, there is growing unrest on the southern part of the peninsula in Yemen.
Given these troubling factors, the Center for American and Arab Studies has produced a special report on the possibility of a military coup in the GCC countries. It looks at the type of coups that pose the greatest threats to the GCC nations, history of coups in the GCC, social factors, issues of civilian control, population’s satisfaction “or lack thereof “with the current government, military capabilities, and outside factors.