DEVELOPMENTS SINCE INDEPENDENCE
Since the early 1970s, increased oil production and regional
instability have dominated events in the Persian Gulf. Revenues
from the oil industry grew dramatically after oil producers raised
their prices unilaterally in 1973; as a result, funds available
to gulf rulers increased. Governments began massive development
projects that brought rapid material and social change. As of
1993, the turmoil that these changes caused had not yet stabilized.
Those states that had benefited longest from oil money, such as
Kuwait and Bahrain, made the greatest progress in adjusting to
the new oil wealth. Oman--which has used its oil reserves only
since the early 1970s and which had suffered under the repressive
policies of Said ibn Taimur--saw substantially less progress.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 challenged gulf stability. Many
gulf leaders agreed with some of the social goals of the revolution
and its efforts to tie Iran more firmly to its Islamic roots.
But Iran's desire to spread the movement beyond its borders clearly
threatened gulf leaders. Furthermore, several gulf states have
significant Shia or Iranian minorities (Bahrain has a Shia majority
although the ruling family is Sunni), and gulf rulers feared that
Iran would use ethnic or sectarian loyalties to stir up such minorities.
As of 1993, however, Shia of the western gulf had not responded
enthusiastically to the Iranian call. Kuwait and Bahrain, which
have the largest Shia populations, experienced some limited pro-Iranian
demonstrations in 1979. In general, however, Shia in both these
states feel that they have more to gain by supporting the existing
regimes than by supporting the convulsive changes that have taken
place in Iran.
Iran was perhaps more threatening to gulf stability because of
its strong anti-Western stance in world and in regional politics.
The new Iranian position stood in stark contrast to the gulf amirs'
long history of involvement with the British and the close ties
to the West that the oil industry entailed. Thus, the Iranian
political worldview was one to which rulers in the gulf states
could not subscribe.
In 1980 the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War made the Iranian threat
more concrete. For the first six years of the conflict, the gulf
states sought to mediate between the two countries and to remain
neutral. Their position changed, however, in 1986, when fighter
aircraft attacked tankers belonging to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Whether Iran or Iraq was responsible for the first attacks remains
uncertain, but the gulf states decided to blame the Iranians and
began to take Iraq's side in the war. Iran responded by opening
up a limited secret campaign against the gulf states. A number
of explosions occurred in Kuwait and Bahrain for which many believed
Iran was responsible. Such attacks made all the states in the
region more concerned about external threats.
In 1981, partly in response to these concerns, Kuwait, Bahrain,
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE formed the Gulf Cooperation
Council (GCC) (see Collective Security under the Gulf Cooperation
Council , ch. 7). The goal of the GCC has been to provide for
regional defense and to coordinate policy on trade and economic
issues. Although the GCC has taken steps to increase the military
capabilities of various members, the region has remained dependent
to a great extent on the protection of the Western powers. For
instance, when the Iran-Iraq War made the gulf unsafe for oil
tankers in the late 1980s, it was ships from Europe and the United
States that protected shipping and cleared the area of mines.
Whereas broader, regional alliances in the gulf have changed
dramatically since the 1970s, individual political systems have
remained relatively unchanged. All the gulf countries grant ultimate
power to a single family, whose leading member rules as amir,
but they also provide for an advisory body whose members are drawn
from outside the royal family. Kuwait and Bahrain have gone beyond
this and have set up separate parliaments with limited power to
draft legislation. However, the Al Sabah and the Al Khalifa have
sometimes dissolved these bodies; thus, it remains uncertain whether
parliaments will become a permanent feature of gulf politics.
The ruling families' hold on power has been challenged at various
times. More problematic is the manner in which the gulf states
have distributed individual citizenship. Since the 1930s, the
population has increased dramatically because of the oil boom,
but the number of citizens has not increased correspondingly.
Most of the gulf states place restrictions on citizenship, requiring
that an individual trace his or her roots in the country to before
1930. Accordingly, the millions of people that have poured into
the region since the 1940s have only partial legal status and
lack political rights in the countries in which they reside. Although
they may have lived there for two generations, they can be asked
to leave at any time.
Data as of January 1993