By: Vahe Minasyan

Vahe Minasyan
Vahe Minasyan is MAIA candidate at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University.
Research interests include: conflict resolution, diplomacy and interstate relations within the framework of security studies, particularly in the Middle East and the South Caucasus.


The Gulf Cooperation Council has faced severe internal divisions since June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE cut diplomatic ties with Qatar and announced that they were closing their air, sea and land borders with Qatar. The latter represents one of the wealthiest countries in the world with the highest revenue per capita. However, Qatar is substantially dependent on imports of goods, which meant that the closure of borders with its neighbors threatened with not only political isolation, but also harsh economic consequences. Such drastic measures were implemented on the basis that Qatar supported various regional terrorist groups and had considerably enhanced its relations with Saudi Arabia’s main rival Iran[1]. Roots of Qatari ambitious foreign policies go back to 1990s when Qatar fundamentally transformed its regional behavior under the reign of Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Before this period Qatar was largely a sidelined Gulf state that was concerned mostly with its domestic politics and relied on Saudi Arabia in security issues. After the two Gulf wars that underlined the smaller states’ need for a diversified security system and amidst the Saudi increasing superiority, Sheikh Hamad introduced his vision of dynamic and flexible Qatar which relying on its natural gas resources started its adventure of becoming a regional actor. As the Sheikh succeeded in establishing quite stable domestic political environment, he diversified Qatar’s list of partners in pursuit of pragmatic foreign policies. Qatar established relations with states such as the USA, Iran and Israel which apparently did not share goodwill among each other. Qatar gave permission to host American military contingent near Doha in attempt to diminish the Saudi influence in its domestic affairs which opposed Hamad’s independent policies and supported the previous Qatari emir overthrown by Hamad Al Thani. Al Jazeera’s foundation also proves the ubiquity of Qatari ambitions and its scope of international reach[2].

I contend here that in addition to the abovementioned two arguments, three significant factors should be taken into account in an attempt to shed light on the origins of the conflict and contribute to the comprehensiveness of the explanation: 1) Qatar’s deep political involvement in conflict zones such as Libya (supporting preferred groups, Qatar and Turkey supporting the Tripoli-based government led by Islamists and recognized by the UN; Russia, the UAE and Egypt backing the Tobruk-based government) and Syria (supporting the Islamic opposition beyond an acceptable extent, Al Tawhid a group within Islamic Front and Nusra Front affiliated with Al Qaeda which both were anti-American and anti-Saudi contingents[3]. Qatar was criticized both by Saudi Arabia and the US) has been one of the sharp divisions with other GCC states[4]. 2) Qatar’s intensified ties and alignment with Turkey has been seen as a disturbing sign (Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood designated as a terrorist group by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt)[5]. 3) Al Jazeera which has been Qatar’s ideological resource that has regularly shifted from generally acknowledged political discourses in the region[6]. My research question covers Al Jazeera as an independent variable that has had a strong say in the eventual breakdown of the GCC due to its state-centered (promoting Qatari perspective) and regional performance that was largely independent from the GCC tacitly acknowledged political patterns. In the first part of the essay I am going to look into the GCC as a security alliance, underline its importance and find out the factors that generally lead to disagreements within security alliances to see the crisis through these lenses. In the second part of the essay, I am going beyond the conventional wisdom that stresses the two arguments mentioned above about the origins of the crisis, expand the scope of the examination by introducing the Al Jazeera effect, one of the three alternative factors that proves the nature of the crisis should be seen through broader lenses rather than mainly through Qatar’s ties with Iran and terrorist networks.


Our knowledge about The Gulf Cooperation Council [Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and Kuwait] is crucial in understanding internal dynamics of the alliance and identifying a broad set of factors that could lead to major tensions. What are the possible reasons that can outweigh the benefits of mutual cooperation in security spheres? I am going to look into the GCC formation through general assumptions about the reasons that lead security alliances to experience breakdowns as well as draw parallels with the Concert of Europe to compare patterns of alliances.

The Gulf Cooperation Council was founded in 1981 and the primary purpose of the alliance was the provision of collective security of the member states. The GCC emerged at the beginning of the war between Iran-Iraq which made the preservation of regional and national security a vital point in Gulf states’ agenda. The member states were especially sensitive to the regional dynamics after the Iranian revolution. After the war, Iraq “joined” the list of security threats posed to the Gulf states by invading Kuwait. Thus, challenges to the regional security were inseparable part in the context of the GCC foundation and operation[7]. It would be wrong to assume that the GCC came to life in a politically smooth transformation. The establishment of the alliance had witnessed a few years of rivalry regarding the systemic structure of the alliance. Thus, the consent to form the GCC was reached not by inter-state reconciliation but due to outside factors of Iranian threat and the destabilizing effect of Iran-Iraq war. Subsequently, the disagreements amongst the member states have been quite prevalent within internal performance of the alliance. Addressing the formation of the GCC after 18 years in 1999 Emirati political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla stated:

“Its nature and what it stands for was hardly clear at the outset, and it is certainly no clearer today,” in part because the hasty formation of the GCC reflected “not so much sober thinking as…an immediate reaction to the turbulent regional events of 1979–80”[8].

These events referred to both the Iranian revolution that aimed at “exporting” the Islamic values established in Iran and the socialist Iraq that were hostile to the monarchical regimes. For smaller Gulf states those external threats were enhanced by the fear of increasing Saudi dominance[9]. It was the Saudi Foreign Minister al-Faisal that was responsible for bringing different perspectives together. Eventually, the GCC Charter came as a compromise that called for “coordination and integration between member states in all fields, leading to their unity”, despite the fact that there were major disagreements regarding the nature of the alliance. The members were divided in their view of whether the organization should be a predominantly military or economic formation[10]. The Gulf crisis showed that the member states experienced tensions not only due to external security threats but because of largely internal divisions. Such drastic changes in security threats priorities made the GCC ineffective to a certain extent as regional security considerations became inferior to national security concerns. Every GCC member started to pursue an independent political agenda not taking into account the collective interests of the neighbors[11].

However, even if there were points of disagreements among the GCC members there had to be a broader and more concrete set of reasons to cause the breakdown. As Stephen Walt argues there are three main reasons that can undermine and eventually cause alliance breakdowns: changing perceptions of threats, declining credibility and domestic politics. In our case the declining credibility of the alliance is the most relevant and influential reason to look into in order to explain the effect of Al Jazeera. As to Walt, an alliance tends to lose its significance when member states become insecure about other countries’ objectives. Moreover, they might see their initial threat as a less dangerous factor than one of the member-states’ amplified aggressive behavior. On top of that, a member state can intimidate both its allies and adversaries with its new ambitious foreign policy stemming from relative gains in power. Finally, an alliance is going to disband when members begin suspecting that their allies would not adhere to their commitments of providing support which means an alliance can at some point stop being beneficial in security terms for any member state[12].

In the first half of the 19th century five dominant powers in Europe- Great Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and later France decided to form an alliance on the basis of largely informal and at the same time influential rules to address the post-Napoleonic war period of Europe’s political landscape. These great powers mainly aimed at preventing the rise of a regional hegemon and extreme revolutionary movements that could undermine regional stability.  Scholars disagree with each other regarding the efficiency of the alliance, but they do agree on the primary factors that led to its collapse. One of the main catalysts of the collapse was the establishment of the French republic in 1848, which had a domino effect and spread to Austria and Prussia. Regime change destroyed a certain amount of trust which previous leaders shared. New regimes were both unaware of how the alliance operated and what the objectives of their counterparts were. Subsequently, each ally started pursuing independent political agenda at the expense of the alliance norms and eventually the lack of commitment to the norms stemming from absence of trust became one of the factors that put an end to the Concert of Europe[13]. The main similarity here concerning the GCC is that both alliances sought to prevent popular revolutionary movements from emerging and making a way into each regime. On the contrary, the main difference between these cases is the fact that there wasn’t a dominant state in the system of the Concert that could affect the dynamics. Within the GCC power differentials did play a role in containing the spread of revolutionary movements with the help of Saudi (limited) leadership.

The Argument and the Alternatives

Since June 2017, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has experienced one of the most serious breakdowns throughout its history. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with Qatar along with closing the only land border with Saudi Arabia, restricting airspace for airplanes flying to and from Qatar as well as preventing Qatari ships from using many ports in the Gulf. For a state that heavily depends on imports those measures substantially harmed the national economy. Two other members Kuwait and Oman remained neutral and the former even suggested it mediate the crisis. Conventional wisdom says that there were two primary reasons that led to Qatar’s isolation: its alleged support for regional terrorism and improving relations with Iran. The rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia represents the region’s calling card[14]. The official Saudi statement on isolating Qatar was based on accusations of promoting terrorist organizations such as Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS and al-Qaeda aimed at undermining the regional security and of supporting terrorist groups backed by Iran such as Houthis in Yemen as well as others inside Saudi Arabia[15]. The UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation made a similar statement and stressed Qatar’s unwillingness to act within the framework of GCC and pursue policies that serve common interests[16]. Bahrain’s statement stood out with its critical nature and state-centered approach. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the hazardous patterns of Qatari funding and support of terrorism that aimed at toppling the government in Bahrain and stressed the importance of taking firm counter measures[17]. On the contrary, Oman retained its long-established neutral position in foreign affairs and did not join the three states in isolating Qatar. Moreover, it offered Qatar its waterways and airspace to make up for the sanctions imposed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE[18]. Kuwait also embraced a neutral position within this crisis and as Mohammad Ramadhan, a Kuwaiti economic analyst and a regular columnist at Kuwait’s Arabic daily Al Qabas said:

“Kuwait’s situation is very clear. It wants to be part of the solution not part of the crisis. Kuwait was also elected as a member of the [United Nations] Security Council for the next two years, and this re-enforces its position as a mediator in this crisis”[19]

However, as it was pointed out in the first part of the essay, security alliances in general are extremely concerned with collective security and the GCC is not an exception. Security alliances come to life through challenging negotiations and political processes both domestically and regionally. Thus, it is in every member’s interest to preserve such alliances and they would encounter major internal obstacles on their way if there is a set of multidimensional predicaments that raise concerns about the cost-benefit balance of security alliances. I am going to look into one of such problematic issues that affected the ultimate breakdown of the GCC: the effect of Al Jazeera. I am going to start by delivering information about its foundation in the context of regional media sphere. Then, there will be a discussion on the patterns of Al Jazeera’s transformation from a considerably independent media source into elite-controlled tool of foreign affairs. Afterwards I am going to focus on the pan-Islamic and (selective) pro-democracy direction of the channel’s operation, which was in fact different between its English and Arabic versions. Finally, an empirical data will try to demonstrate that the role of Al Jazeera should be considered while addressing the breakdown of the GCC in 2017.

The Media Giant of the Arab world: Al Jazeera

Qatar’s Al Jazeera appeared in a limited sphere of the general Arab media environment where Arab people largely saw their media agencies as tools exploited by their official circles. Under these circumstances, Al Jazeera gained unprecedented popularity and weight through its coverage of insightful political, cultural, and economic issues[20]. In November 1996 al Jazeera initiated its first airtime with financial support from Qatari government. The staff of the channel included a lot of journalists that used to work on dissolved BBC Arabic Service television channel. It is not surprising, that Al Jazeera drew so much attention from Arab audience, since it covered intriguing news and viewpoints as well as criticized a number of Arab countries[21]. The channel aspired to play a role of independent actor in the Gulf by implementing uncomplicated editorial practices. Such policies led to the multifaceted coverage of international events that could include viewpoints from Israeli officials, Saudi dissidents, and criticism of Qatar’s actions from time to time[22]. When Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani came to power in 1995, he had a desire to establish a news agency that would provide insights unlike what was offered by CNN or BBC concerning the region. Al Jazeera was meant to become the pioneer of the regional news agencies void of any control stemming from Qatar’s elites. The significance of expertise in the region was coupled with the analytical patterns of Western journalism and these two factors were essential when hiring journalists. Starting with such huge ambitions al Jazeera succeeded in becoming the most popular media source in the Gulf in the period of 1997-2002 through its broadcasting of live sessions, graphic imagery and disputes regarding the American attack on Iraq (1998), the second Palestinian Intifada and post-9/11 Afghanistan. It was the only media source worldwide that had official permission to show the American and British attack on Iraq and to convey Taliban’s viewpoints from Afghanistan after 9/11. It broke all stereotypes of the Arab media by presenting opinions of Israeli figures and giving airtime to bin Laden’s speech concerning the American bombardment in Afghanistan[23].

However, the scale of al Jazeera’s independence has largely been disputed. For example, Wikileaks cables prove that there have been certain levels of cooperation between the channel and the Qatari government. In 2005 the Qatari ambassador in the US promised to get rid of a provocative article published on Al Jazeera’s website when the wife of the former US vice president Lynne Cheney raised this question. The ambassador did what he had promised. On top of that, two years later when it was obvious that the relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia were progressing, one of Al Jazeera’s employees revealed that they were not allowed touching topics about Saudi Arabia unless they gained higher authorization. Nevertheless, we should not overestimate the interaction patterns between Al Jazeera and the Qatari government and contend that the channel’s operation is tied with unchallenging elite control. The fact that apparently there is connection between the two actors, which especially becomes clearer in the Arabic version of the channel than in the English version should not be dismissed. It is eventually reasonable to accept the fact of such cooperation since the Qatari state was always aware of the concept of soft power and it surely was the proponent of pursuing its broad international interests through Al Jazeera[24]  Hence, we should see Al Jazeera as a moderately independent news agency because there is also the factor of being a geopolitical tool to provide first and utmost Qatar’s regional influence. The channel pursues this goal by giving opportunities to dissent voices, critically approaching other Arab governments and presenting Qatari understanding of the events and ongoing developments. Versatility of Al Jazeera’s practices has led it to become a powerful source that has a say in shaping people’s notions[25].

The major challenges for Al Jazeera’s credibility came with the events of the Arab Spring. The channel experienced high levels of support while shedding light on the situation unfolding in Egypt, but after the uprising spread to Libya and Bahrain at the same time Al Jazeera chose the wrong path. It largely supported the aspirations of Libyans, but also illustrated highly indifferent position towards Bahraini events, which undermined its aim and image of “freedom fighter”. These events further revealed the channel’s scope of dependence on the Qatari policy patterns. The appointment of the Qatari royal member Sheikh Ahmed Al Thani as the director-general of Al Jazeera only inflamed the tensions[26] Systematic appearance of such actions has led to occasional closure of the channel by its neighbors. For example, when talking about shutting down Al Jazeera the UAE’s ambassador to Russia, Ghobash, said:

“Closure of Al Jazeera was a reasonable demand. We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech. Freedom of speech has different constraints in different places. Speech in our part of the world has a particular context, and the context can go from peaceful to violent in no time simply because of words that spoken”.

The ambassador’s words can simply be perceived as a summary of other GCC states’ visions of Al Jazeera which is being utilized by Qatar to pursue its individual interests by shaking up the region and harming Saudi Arabia and other countries[27]. It was already in 2004 when a leaked diplomatic cable illustrated MbZ’s [the UAE’s Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed Al-Nahyan] thoughts about Al Jazeera. According to the UAE’s ruler the channel sympathized Al Qaeda and one of his sons was affected by the channel’s misinformation. According to MbZ his son used to be a good student, but had started to present views against Western actors due to Al Jazeera’s influence. He also added:

“If [Al Jazeera] can affect the grandson of a moderate leader like Sheikh Zayed this way, imagine what it can do to the uneducated or the lower classes”[28].

Al Jazeera also tried to criticize Saudi Arabia in an indirect manner. As we know most of the regional news agencies are controlled by governments. In this context Al Jazeera tried to show how ineffective was Saudi media sphere by highlighting its political conservatism and inferiority of news compared to entertaining programs[29].

At the beginning of protests in North Africa Qatar demonstrated at first watchful behavior, but after a while it more vividly placed responsibility for the rise of the protests on the governments of North African countries. Al Jazeera made every effort to convey protestors’ messages as well as encourage others in the region starting from Tunisia. Qatar was to a certain extent protected from such extreme political and economic grievances internally and could afford itself a completely different perspective for interpreting the events. On the contrary, its GCC member neighbors were at risk of experiencing such protests within their states and eventually they did experience such events in 2011. As Qatar realized the potential of the protests it immediately established Al Jazeera as a platform that raised the voices of protestors in a 24/7 manner from Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Qatar aimed at presenting itself as a guardian of international norms such as political and human rights and more importantly Qatar was not concerned about these events penetrating the country[30]. As we saw, one of Al Jazeera’s main challenges regarding the coverage of the Arab Spring was the polarized position towards the protests that took place at the same time in Libya and Bahrain. International Herald Tribune best described why Al Jazeera largely ignored to give airtime to Bahraini grievances:

“The threat posed by Bahrain’s protests was closer to home. Their success would have set a precedent for broader public participation in a region ruled by Sunni dynasties”.

After facing a wave of criticism Al Jazeera launched a documentary on Bahraini protests. However, the documentary was only shown on the English Channel for a limited time, and it decided to exclude the film from its trendier Arabic channel. Media observers were ready for such a development of events. According to one of them, the English version publishes more independent data, than the Arabic version. He also recalls the fact that Qatar was one of the states that deployed forces to neighboring Bahrain to restore the order. So, there were too many factors involved here that did not allow Qatar to remain committed to its initial position of “freedom supporter”[31]. Al Jazeera’s explicit support for the revolutions and for the idea of toppling the notorious autocratic regimes represented a direct threat to the status-quo powers in the region, more particularly, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Al Jazeera widely pictured Qatar as a domain of (Islamist) democracy and as a force that might question political rights of the state leaders in the region. It was anticipated that such policies would cause deep hostility against Qatar within the official circles of Saudi and Emirati leaderships[32]. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince at the time, MbS [Mohammed bin Salman] strongly believed that Saudi interests were constantly threatened by Qatar’s policies such as working on relations with Iran, aiding groups that had anti-Saudi direction and bolstering Al Jazeera. The channel was perceived to be anti-Saudi and pro-Muslim Brotherhood as well as supportive of other groups designated as terrorist groups by Saudi Arabia. Eventually, when MbS came to power he decided to transform his passive resentment into action[33]. In fact, Qatar had envisioned the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood before the events of 2011 and delivered aid to Brotherhood affiliates in the region. Qatar also offered asylum for the Brotherhood exiles such as the Egyptian prominent political figure Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Hamas leader Khaled Mashal. Their populist and Sunni Islamist ideas were regularly being aired on Al Jazeera[34]. Al Qaradawi got his own show on Al Jazeera called Shari’a and Life which had more than sixty million viewers. Al Jazeera soon gained an image of pro-Brotherhood and clearly biased channel, especially after Qaradawi addresses the Egyptian events with evident prejudice[35]. Other news agencies such as Saudi Al Arabiyya saw the region in the framework of nation-states that were influenced by regional dominant powers. On the contrary, Al Jazeera tried to counter this notion by blurring national borders to establish a more transnational framework where the Arab World is united in an Umma [Muslim community]. In these terms Al Jazeera’s and Qaradawi’s approaches coalesced. Both advocated for pan-Islamic transformation of the region[36]. Some of Qaradawi’s infamous announcements were the fatwa conveyed live on Al Jazeera that called for Gaddafi’s murder and the one where he called to move to Syria. The latter was valid for all physically capable Sunni Muslims who could fight[37].

In 2014 a minor diplomatic crisis occurred when Saudi, Emirati and Bahraini ambassadors were recalled from Qatar because the latter violated one of the prior agreements on non-interference in the affairs of a GCC state. “Supporting hostile media” was one of the reasons which implied the role of Al Jazeera.  Ambassadors returned to Qatar when a new agreement was signed[38]. Eventually in 2017 three GCC states-imposed blockade on Qatar due to the latter’s continuing policies and this crisis heavily undermined the whole system of the GCC alliance. Blockaded states issued a list of thirteen demands that Qatar would have to comply with in order for the blockade to be lifted. One of the demands was shutting down Al Jazeera[39]. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia perceived the Muslim Brotherhood as an eminent threat to their domestic affairs and close interaction between the group and Qatar promoted by Al Jazeera was one of the main reasons of the blockade. Especially Saudis were concerned as the Salafi Wahhabi branch of Islam is dominant in Qatar and the latter could use this factor to sow discord and consolidate opposition against the Saudi government. In such a context shutting down the channel seemed a crucial point[40]. Al Jazeera has demonstrated that it actually has the ability to make changes in the political landscape of the region and its influence has been broadly fostered by the events of the Arab Spring that revealed the vulnerabilities of a number of Arab regimes[41].

Case study: Bahrain: “Shouting in the dark”

It can seem that including the factor of media in international relations in the Gulf and paying much attention to media’s role would be politically insignificant. States cannot simply afford to put their relations with another sate at risk especially in a complex region of the Gulf based on largely social phenomenon (Media). However, there are examples that challenge our general assumptions like the documentary about Bahrain called: “Bahrain: Shouting in the dark”, aired by Al Jazeera. The documentary was aired in March 2011 and immediately had a huge resonance. It showed the nature of democratic movement in Bahrain combined with extremely brutal measures taken by the military and the police. The government had forbidden the foreign press from covering the uprising and prevented doctors as well as ambulances from providing medical services during the events. The national television was entirely under the government control and started to expose famous Bahraini protestors as well as discredit them. Social sites like Facebook were used to deliver information on protestors, their identity and workplace to allow the government to oppress the movement in a targeted manner. Such measures were taken to deal with Shi’a opposition that also witnessed how the government demolished their mosques[42]. After the documentary’s premiere, it was not surprising that the relations between Qatar and Bahrain would experience major tensions since the Bahraini authorities had made every effort to keep the uprising away from international attention. Bahraini news agencies labeled the documentary as “lies and slanders” in addition to a pro-government Sunni member of parliament Khamis Al-Rumaihi who stated that Qatar aimed at undermining the developments within the Bahraini national discourse. The film was broadcasted on Al Jazeera English only and bypassed the Arabic version of the channel that had been criticized for selective coverage of the uprisings in the region[43]. The film led a number of lawmakers in Bahrain to send a letter to the Qatari ambassador in Bahrain and call for more independent coverage of the events by Al Jazeera[44]. After the airing of the documentary, various online sources claimed that Bahrain was going to suspend its diplomatic relations with Qatar in protest against the film. Bahraini foreign minister expressed his criticism on his Twitter account:

“It is obvious that there are people in Qatar who do not want good for Bahrain… And the opinionated film on Al Jazeera English is the best example of this puzzling animosity… A one whole-hour of exclusive rights to Al Jazeera English presenting a one-sided view… Dismissing the views of the majority of the Bahraini people… You deserve an Oscar”.

Bahrain and Qatar did not publish any official response around the ongoing tensions due to their unwillingness to cause snowball effect. Eventually, the crisis faded away as the Bahraini foreign minister made another statement on his Twitter account: “The report about cutting off relations between Bahrain and Qatar is not true and lacks credibility. Relations between Manama and Doha are larger and deeper than a negative television program. Whoever targets Qatar and its people is in fact attacking his own family”. Qatar’s ambassador in Bahrain, Abdullah Al Thani in his turn stated that there was nothing that threatened the relations between Qatar and Bahrain: “The two countries have successfully settled issues and we never cared about negative developments”[45].


In this paper I attempted to advocate that there actually was a broader set of divisions within the GCC at the time when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain imposed the blockade. The conventional wisdom encompassed the ideas of Qatar’s cooperation with Iran and support for terrorist groups which definitely were the axis of tensions. However, those factors alone would be insufficient to cause a security alliance to deteriorate. The GCC was founded in an exceedingly unstable regional framework that was defined by active Iranian performance and Iran-Iraq war. The foundation of the GCC owned its materialization to the fact that all members were heavily concerned about their security rather than autonomy which compelled them to temporarily overcome interstate disagreements around the GCC characteristics. Then, I proceeded with identification of common factors that could destabilize performance of an alliance and underlined the power of alliance credibility. When an alliance stops being in the interest of every member state, patterns of mutual distrust begin to emerge. This can transform into a deeper belief that a certain member could distance itself from the alliance and begin pursuing independent as well as hostile policies not only against adversaries but also former allies. Other members would also review their policies towards the alliance in terms of comparing the benefits of its persistence to the potential harms coming from the separated member(s). Security alliances represent a combination of realist, liberalist and constructivist notions as they emerge as a response to regional or international security threats, persist based on institutional efforts and rely on shared values and identities. Similarly, they collapse due to multiple factors and the GCC breakdown is one of the vivid examples that highlighted the threats coming from Qatar’s ambitious foreign policies in Syria and Libya, its military cooperation with Turkey and the factor of my interest Al Jazeera’s performance. Further parallels drawn between The GCC and the Concert of Europe reinforce the significance of identity perception which resulted in the collapse of the earliest security alliances in history.
In the next part, I examined the foundation and subsequent development of Al Jazeera. It emerged as the first regional and initially independent media source that won hearts and minds of the Arab people with its unlimited coverage of intriguing news that had been considered a sort of a taboo before. Its popularity was unprecedented compared to the state-controlled media sources of the region that substantially avoided sensitive reports. However, Al Jazeera’s evident transformation into a governmental tool of foreign policy harmed its image of impartiality. It is important to understand that the eventual breakdown of the GCC was preceded by continuing tensions amongst the member states due to the channel’s growing reach. There were occasional resentments expressed by Saudi and Emirati officials that Al Jazeera “contributed” to the region’s fragility. The events of the Arab Spring can be designated as the final watershed between Qatar and other GCC states. Throughout the protests Qatar expressed its solidarity with pro-democracy protestors and galvanized others with the help of Al Jazeera. The only exception was Bahrain which was too close to Qatar geographically to put it on the spot.  It was in 2014 when the same GCC states that imposed blockade in 2017 cut their diplomatic ties with Qatar that allegedly interfered into internal affairs of member states with the help of Al Jazeera. After these events Al Jazeera became the Islamist center of Muslim Brotherhood members like Yusuf Al Qaradawi that severely worsened the relations between Qatar and Saudi-Emirati duet. His pan-Islamic ideas were seen as a direct threat to Saudi and Emirati elites that aspired to avoid any major sectarian revolts within their communities. Finally, not to sound too hypothetical, I decided to bring to attention an episode during the Arab Spring in the Gulf that was on the verge of becoming a real predicament. Having received criticism for its selective coverage of the protests, Al Jazeera launched a documentary in its English Channel (more self-regulating than the Arabic version) showing the cruelty of the Bahraini police and military forces against the opposition. Bahrain’s foreign minister sarcastically addressed the documentary and heavily criticized it for its one-dimensional approach. He stated that there were actors in Qatar that wanted to harm Bahrain. After the statements various sources claimed that Bahrain would cut its diplomatic ties with Qatar but the two countries never made any official response to the sloppy situation fearing from further escalation. The conflict seemed to have been settled peacefully according to Qatar’s ambassador to Bahrain.


[1] Wintour, Patrick. “Gulf Plunged Into Diplomatic Crisis As Countries Cut Ties With Qatar”. The Guardian, 2017,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[2] Barakat, Sultan. Qatari Mediation: Between Ambition And Achievement. The Brookings Institution, Doha, 2014, pp. 6-9.

[3] Cafiero, Giorgio, and Daniel Wagner. “How The Gulf Arab Rivalry Tore Libya Apart”. The National Interest, 2015,  Accessed 2 May 2021.

[4] Oweis, Khaled. “Saudi-Qatar Rivalry Divides Syrian Opposition”. Reuters, 2014, Accessed 2 May 2021.

[5] Kingsley, Patrick. “Decimated Muslim Brotherhood Still Inspires Fear. Its Members Wonder Why. (Published 2017)”. Nytimes.Com, 2017, Accessed 2 May 2021.

[6] Lynch, Marc. “Three Big Lessons Of The Qatar Crisis”. The Washington Post, 2021,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021

[7] Al-Mohannadi, Hamad, and Nayef Al-Shamari. “Transformations Of The Gulf Security Landscape After The Gulf Crisis: A Geopolitical Approach”. The 2017 Gulf Crisis: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Mahjoob Zweiri et al., Springer, Doha, 2021, p. 80

[8] C. Ulrichsen, Kristian. “Perceptions And Divisions In Security And Defense Structures In Arab Gulf States”. Divided Gulf: The Anatomy Of A Crisis, Andreas Krieg, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, pp. 23-24

[9] Berger, Linda. “The Gulf Cooperation Council Between Unity And Discord Towards The Arab Uprisings”. Sicherheit & Frieden, vol 32, no. 4, 2014, pp. 260-264. Nomos Verlag, doi:10.5771/0175-274x-2014-4-260.

[10] Aluwaisheg, Abdel Aziz. “The Founding Of The GCC”. Arab News, 2020, Accessed 2 May 2021.

[11] Al-Mohannadi, Hamad, and Nayef Al-Shamari, Ibid, p.80

[12] Walt, M.Stephen  ” Why alliances endure or collapse”, Survival, 39:1, 1997, pp. 158-160

[13]  Lascurettes, Kyle. What Can The Order Of 19Th-Century Europe Teach Policymakers About International Order In The 21St Century?. RAND, 2017, pp. 4-16.

[14] “Qatar Crisis: What You Need To Know”. BBC News, 2017, Accessed 4 Apr 2021

[15] “Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia Cuts Off Diplomatic And Consular Relations With The State Of Qatar | The Embassy Of The Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia”. Saudiembassy.Net, 2017, Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[16] “UAE Supports Statements Of Kingdom Of Bahrain And Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia On Qatar.”. Mofaic.Gov.Ae, 2017,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[17] “Statement Of The Kingdom Of Bahrain On The Severance Of Diplomatic Relations With The State Of Qatar”. Mofa.Gov.Bh, 2017,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[18] Cafiero, Giorgio, and Theodore Karasik. “Yemen War And Qatar Crisis Challenge Oman’s Neutrality”. Middle East Institute, 2017,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[19] Al Rifai, Nada, and Shane McGinley. “Kuwait And Oman: As They Remain Silent On The Qatar-Gulf Rift, What Does This Mean For Them?”. Zawya.Com, 2017,  Accessed 4 Apr 2021.

[20] Badawi, Haydar, and Catalina Petcu. “The History Of Al Jazeera”. Al Jazeera In The Gulf And In The World, Haydar Badawi, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, p. 1

[21] Asisian, Njdeh. “The Qatar Crisis, Its Regional Implications, And The US National Interest”. Small Wars Journal, 2018, pp. 11-12.

[22] H. Warren, David. Rivals In The Gulf: Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Abdullah Bin Bayyah, and the Qatar-UAE Contest Over the Arab Spring and the Gulf Crisis, Routledge, 2021, Chapter 1.

[23] Badawi, Haydar, and Catalina Petcu, Ibid, p.4-5

[24] Kamrava, Mehran. Qatar: Small State, Big Politics., Cornel University Pres, 2013, Chapter 3.

[25] Badawi, Haydar, and Catalina Petcu, Ibid, p. 26

[26] Khatib, Lina. “Qatar’s Foreign Policy: The Limits Of Pragmatism”. International Affairs, vol 89, no. 2, 2013, p. 428.

[27]  Asisian, Njdeh, Ibid

[28] C. Davidson, Christopher. “The UAE, Qatar and the question of political Islam”. Divided Gulf: The Anatomy Of A Crisis, Andreas Krieg, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, p.80

[29] Badawi, Haydar, and Catalina Petcu, Ibid, p.25

[30] C. Ulrichsen, Kristian, Ibid, p. 26-27

[31] Kamrava, Mehran. Ibid, p.89-90

[32] Quilliam,Neil. “The Saudi Dimension: Understanding the Kingdom’s Position in the Gulf Crisis”. Divided Gulf: The Anatomy Of A Crisis, Andreas Krieg, Palgrave Macmillan, 2019, p.113

[33] Quilliam,Neil, Ibid, p.112

[34] F. Gause III, Gregory. What The Qatar Crisis Shows About The Middle East. POMEPS, 2017, p. 10

[35] C. Davidson, Christopher, Ibid,p.86

[36] H.Warren, David, Ibid, Chapter 1

[37] Ibid, Chapter 2

[38] Ibid, Chapter 3

[39] J,Riggs, Robert. “The Qatar–Iran–Turkey Nexus: Shifts in Political Alliances and Economic Diversification in the Gulf Crisis”. The 2017 Gulf Crisis: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Mahjoob Zweiri et al., Springer, Doha, 2021, p. 182

[40]  F. Gause III, Gregory, p.11

[41] Badawi, Haydar, and Catalina Petcu, Ibid, p.28

[42] “Shouting In The Dark : The Dark And Bloody Legacy Of Bahrain’s Facebook Revolution”. Huffpost, 2011, Accessed 13 Apr 2021.

[43] Black, Ian. “Bahrain Protests To Qatar Over Al-Jazeera Film”. The Guardian, 2011, Accessed 13 Apr 2021.

[44] “Bahrain Denies It Has Plans To Snap Qatar Ties”. Khaleej Times, 2011, Accessed 13 Apr 2021.

[45]  Toumi, Habib. “Bahrain Denies Rift With Qatar”. Gulfnews.Com, 2011, Accessed 13 Apr 2021.