Perspectives from Middle East and North African Countries
Edited by Carlo Altomonte and Massimiliano Ferrara
Chapter 1: Gulf monarchies' role in the new MENA region
The emergence of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) monarchies (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates) as a major player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is one of the most interesting outcomes of the Arab Spring. Nevertheless, the Gulf monarchies' presence in the region is not new. Over the last decade relations between the GCC and Southern Mediterranean states have intensified at both political and economic levels. Islam has been a major driver of the progressive Gulf expansion in the region. Gulf monarchies, in particular Saudi Arabia, have financed religious groups and activities in MENA countries in order to support political Islam, mainly Salafi-inspired groups (Maestri, 2012). Since the 1980s the charities of the Gulf states have operated inside the GCC as well as outside. In the economic field, GCC foreign direct investment (FDI), which grew between 2003 and 2008 as a consequence of the oil boom registered in those years, played a key role in fostering economic growth in MENA countries. At the regional level, Gulf monarchies - led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar - particularly engaged in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, sponsoring several - albeit unsuccessful - peace initiatives. The Arab awakening and the deep regional transformations that it has engendered have pushed the Gulf monarchies to assume a more dynamic and assertive stance in the area in order to protect their interests and avoid a wave of unrest that could endanger their own stability.
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