New leaders, new friendships (1995-2001)? Monarchic solidarity in the “Khaleeji club” of gulf monarchs
While Bahrain and Qatar retained most of their similarities, non-synchronized succession in both countries brought about some discordance due to the different worldviews and agendas of the leaders (although it affected restraint only on a non-military level). A period of deterioration in relations followed in the turn from 1995 to 1996 after Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani became emir, having deposed his father in June 1995 in a bloodless palace coup (Cordesman 1997,48). The rift was closed along with the generational gap after the succession of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa in Bahrain in 1999.
Hamad reformed the institutions on the peninsula radically. He instigated a number of political and economic reforms, extending education, social services, and welfare to the broader citizenship population and introduced a constitution providing for basic civil rights and avenues of political participation (cf. Fromherz 2012, chapter 6; Kamrava 2009). He also reformed the decision-making process in foreign policy that was to a large extent centralized and patrimonial under his father. Emir Hamad, a Sandhurst graduate with broad international exposure, decentralized and diffused decision-making, already beginning while still crown prince (and minister of defense and commander-in-chief of the armed forces -the multiple simultaneous roles already indicating the highly centralized powers) (Wright 2012, 301).
Disagreement and rift over the general political worldview of the two rulers would resurface over the years, at least until the succession of Hamad bin Isa as emir (later as king) of Bahram. The emir of Qatar had just overthrown his conservative father and opposed the politics of Bahraini Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa for much the same reasons as he did his father’s. In his view, Bahraini conservatism and lack of modernization caused the disruptive Shiite unrest in the country. The Al Khalifa, on the other hand, saw Qatari behavior as deliberately rude and provocative, careless about the "normal courtesies between Gulf ruling elites” and taking advantage of Bahrain's internal problems to further their agenda (Cordesman 1997, 49).
Qatar's disruptive influence in the GCC under Emir Hamad earned it the description of being the "gadfly” of the GCC by some observers (Teitelbaum 1999b, 600). Local scholars and observers emphasized that the disorderly succession by coup constituted a break with Gulf values and therefore ruptured the trust between the countries (Salama 2014), not dissimilar to the criticism it has faced since the eruption of the Qatar Crisis. It was not the palace coup per se that irked the conservative rulers of the Gulf. In fact, the now-overthrown Khalifa had come to power in exactly the same way in 1972, via a palace coup while his uncle and predecessor was abroad. The crucial difference was that the 1972 coup was supported by Qatari and Gulf (especially Saudi) elites (Commins 2012, 213), but the 1995 coup was not approved more broadly and therefore went against Gulf values of consultation and respect for tradition, authority, and seniority. While Qatar saw Bahrain as a Saudi tool, the distance to Saudi politics and ideology was even greater, and Hamad rejected the Saudi attempts to enforce their ultraconservatism in its smaller neighbors in order to stabilize their own rule (Cordesman 1997, 225).
These rifts weakened the ingroup perception because the basis for similarity, institutions, and similar mindset and worldview among the rulers, which are the prime agents of ingroup identification, shifted. It was bridged once Bahrain “caught up” with Qatar on both fronts. In any case, even during the period of largest distance, the ingroup was never ruptured completely.
Salience: constraints and catalysts of ingroup identification
Between 1995 and 2001, there were no significant disruptions or transformations that affected monarchic salience. Since the threat level gradually decreased since the 1979 revolution and the 1990/1991 Gulf War, it could be said to have slightly lowered. Ingroup identification in this period could thus not have been driven by an especially heightened salience of the monarchic ingroup. This shifts the explanatory burden to the social processes in the second period. The second period in Bahraini-Qatari relations was not marked by a particularly high level of threat: with Baghdad severely weakened after two Gulf wars and a normalization of ties between (now less openly revolutionary) Iran and at least some of the Gulf monarchies, there was no direct threat against either monarchies in general or the GCC states in particular.
Despite the ongoing sectarianized unrest in Bahrain in the 1990s, the anti-Ira-nian stance was toned down by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and the latter even exchanged ambassadors with Iran in 1997, despite having formerly accused the Islamic Republic of backing the Shi'a unrest in the country (Teitelbaum 1999a, 294-296). Even relations with Iraq were on the upside, with both Qatar and Bahrain, along with the UAE and Oman, campaigning for a lifting of the embargo and sanctions and distancing from the official Arab League and GCC line led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait (Maddy-Weitzman 1999a, 128).
No other significant competing identity overtook monarchism in salience either, as confessional and ethnic cleavages (Sunni-Shia/Arab-Persian) have declined for the same reasons.9 Despite periods of stronger and weaker ideological fervor, there was no explicit ideology that could have divided the two countries, especially since the two rulers did not foster any such ideologies.
Social processes of ingroup identification
Despite the high tensions between the Gulf rulers, the periods of high tension were always temporary and confined, as no side was interested in a serious rupture. At the end of the 1990s, this finally translated into official diplomatic rapprochement. In 1997, the countries decided to establish embassies in the respective capitals, although the process of appointing ambassadors dragged on for several years. Qatar appointed Sa'd al-Rumaihi, who as head of Qatar television had broadcasted interviews with Bahraini opposition members, and Bahrain dragged its feet (Maddy-Weitzman 1999. 128; Teitelbaum 1999b, 298). The resolution of the dispute opened the way to establish full diplomatic relations.
The lack of embassies did at no time preclude direct contact between the emirs or foreign or prime ministers of the countries, which is why it should be interpreted not as a complete lack of mutual recognition but rather as a bargaining chip and signal of disagreement. The emirs and foreign ministers met frequently during the period, although cancelations and boycotts of meetings were also used strategically to protest. Despite some setbacks, the meetings resulted in significant steps to resolve the dispute and brought the countries closer together.
In June 1996, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar’s foreign and prime minister, visited Bahrain to mend relations, and his nephew, the emir, proclaimed that "Qatar was keen to improve relations with Bahrain despite their dispute over the Hawar islands” (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 86). Bahrain agreed that there were more pressing matters, such as terrorism, Iraq, and Iran, but again pressed for Saudi mediation. After more declarations signaling the will to cooperate, the crown prince of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, called for a summit to resolve the dispute in September 1996. In October, Bahrain submitted a petition to the ICJ, which Qatar welcomed, but it did not drop the call for Saudi mediation (Wiegand 2012, 86).
Bahrain still refused to attend the GCC meeting in Doha in 1996, in protest of Qatar's unilateral decision to put the dispute to the ICJ - despite royal intervention from Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Saudi Arabia, and King Hussein of Jordan (Hussain
1996a). It also boycotted further meetings in 1997 and a GCC air exercise in December (Teitelbaum 1999a, 298) and later declined to participate in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in 2000, which also took place in Doha (Wiegand 2012, 80).
Despite Balirain's absence at the GCC summit in 1996, a ministerial committee tasked with mediating the dispute was installed at the summit and met several times in early 1997. In mid February, the Bahraini foreign minister and crown prince (later Emir Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa) met with Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabir Al Thani in London to discuss their relations (Teitelbaum 1999a, 297). In the following weeks, the foreign ministers of the states conducted official state visits to the respective neighbors and received a cordial reception. These meetings immediately preceded the decision to finally open embassies, thus normalizing relations (Teitelbaum 1999a, 298). The two emirs met again for separate talks during the following GCC summit in Kuwait in December 1997 (Maddy-Weitzman 1999,128), and Qatar's emir visited Manama for the first time in December 1998. One of the results was an agreement to set up a joint committee encouraging cooperation, and a Qatari proposal to build a causeway linking the two states was welcomed by Bahrain. The commission was to be headed by the two crown princes (Wiegand 2012, 87, 93), one of whom, Hamad Al Khalifa, succeeded his father as emir of Bahrain in 1999 amid a period of internal tensions.
After his succession, another flurry of exchange visits followed, among which was Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa's visit to Doha (Teitelbaum 2001a, 196). While the exchange of ambassadors planned for 2000 failed, the rulers of the two countries once again met for talks to resolve the dispute (Peterson 2011, 32). In March 2000, Qatar Airways announced that it would begin daily flights between Doha and Manama (Wiegand 2012, 93).
These developments were a result of intense negotiations and mutual attempts at reconciliations but also, due to a feedback loop, itself an indicator of intensified international and transnational relations between the two countries. A new period of reconciliation was initiated after the coming to power of Emir Hamad bin Isa in Bahrain in 1999 and was stabilized by the ICJ ruling.
The successions in the two states, 1995 in Qatar and 1999 in Bahrain, brought a new generation of rulers, two namesake young reformer emirs, into power. They were closer in terms of outlook, worldview, and ruling ideology to each other and the generational gap that fired up the conflict between Bahrain and Qatar was closed. Before, Bahraini (and other Gulf) officials complained that the behavior of especially Hamad bin Khalifa and Hamad bin Jassim broke the norms that ruled the Gulf family with their disruptive modernization.
Not least due to their Western education - both monarchs were graduates of the British Royal Military Academy of Sandhurst, along with many other members of ruling families all over the world and especially in the Middle East, and the Bahraini emir is even the patron of the Sandhurst Trust, the Academy’s alumni organization (Batty 2011; Watt 2016) - they shared many ideas about governance and what degree of liberalization and participation was appropriate. Their worldview and ruling ideology differed in many ways from those of their fathers while resembling each other’s. Another example where generational change among monarchs brought about closer relations is the Qatari-Jordanian relationship, where equally young and reformist King Abdallah succeeded his father in 1999 (Teitelbaum 2001b, 504).
During a visit of the Qatari emir to Bahrain in early 2001, he congratulated his counterpart on the successful referendum on the (new) National Action Charter, which ended a period of internal troubles in the island, and on the latter’s efforts to modernize Bahrain via his social, political, and economic reforms (Al-Arayed 2003, 405). These reforms closed some of the gaps in institutional similarity caused by the Qatari emir's reforms.
Once the gulf between the Bahraini and Qatari rulers as the prime identification actors shrank with the consecutive successions, the shared norms of behavior again converged, and the dispute level shrank, leading not just to mutual restraint in times of conflict but even to a resolution of the conflict altogether.
Statements and interviews of the time paint a clear picture of a preference for cooperation over conflict, and one reason that was always given for it was the close familial ties of the two countries and their dynasties. These were reiterated incessantly via speeches, proclamations, and even rebukes of the other. The repeated and consistent invocation of the idea of "family” when speaking about a neighboring state is a strong indication of the presence of an ingroup identity among that "family”, especially when there is a rhetorical differentiation between different “classes of states”.
To Bahrain's prime minister, Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, the family aspect was so important that he mentioned it twice in one sentence when he emphasized in February 1995 that "a brotherly solution was best, particularly between brothers, because it was one that would clear the atmosphere, unify positions, end the dispute and enable us to avoid the problems that resulted from border disputes” (Wiegand 2012, 92, emphasis added).
In September 1996, at the time still-Crown Prince of Bahram Shaikh Hamad stressed the importance of family harmony (without forgetting economic benefits for Bahrain): “we reiterate our call because our ultimate aim is a union with our brothers in Qatar.... Qatar is considered one of the richest countries in the world, which is a plus in contributing toward this great union” (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 92, emphasis added).
A September 1996 interview with Qatar’s foreign (and prime) minister, who decisively shaped the course of Qatari foreign policy in Emir Hamad’s era, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, is highly instructive in that regard. While elaborating on the notion that it is important to have "good relations with everyone” for Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim distinguished between states with "better” or "good” relations and such with "normal relations” and referred to the latter as “neighbors”, not family, or even "friends”. An excerpt shows the outer layers outside the constructed ingroup:
Being a friend to everybody, I might note, is a very difficult mission, but we are on our way. We have military cooperation and friendship with the United
States and the European states. We have good relations with Iran. We have normal relation with Iraq. When people ask us ‘Why do you help Iran and Iraq?’ we reply, "They are our neighbors." We have to have an understanding with our neighbors that there will be no interference in our internal affairs. We cannot afford to have enemies. ... I cannot tell you all the relations are alike; no, there are different levels. We cooperate militarily with the United States but not with Iraq or Iran. Still, we have good relations with the latter. I know where I should have better relations and where just normal relations. But even normal relations will spare me in a crisis.
(Pipes 1996, emphasis added)
Outside of the ingroup, the political system loses its relevance: answering a question about Iran and Iraq, Hamad bin Jassim replies, "The type of regime is not our business. We don't want them to interfere in our affairs and we stay out of theirs. Let the people there decide whom they want. ... As long as they don’t interfere in our affairs, they can have any kind of regime” (Pipes 1996). Here, the relations toward outgroup members are based not on a positively defined community but rather on the principle of quid pro quo of mutual noninterference.
Equally illuminating in this regard is the Bahraini decision to boycott the 1996 GCC summit in Doha and the justifications and accusations that accompanied it. Despite royal intervention from Sultan Qaboos of Oman, Saudi Arabia, and King Hussein of Jordan,10 Bahrain decided to stick to its boycott decision (Hussain 1996a). Bahrain reaffirmed its decision but thanked "the brotherly countries who attempted to persuade Bahrain to attend” and wished success for the meeting (cited in: Hussain 1996b). Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa justified the decision on the basis that Qatar had "not favourably responded to calls and initiatives aimed at solving the outstanding issues between the two brotherly states, in the spirit of the one Gulffamily", adding that this behavior threatened Bahraini national security (cited in: Young 1997, emphasis added).
The Qatari emir expressed regret, in his opening address during the summit, at Bahrain’s absence without admonishing the Bahraini government and again unsparingly used familial rhetoric, both in abstract terms, referring to the state and in direct terms to the Bahraini ruler:
I would like to express our deep regret that the sisterly State of Bahrain has apologized that it would not be taking part in this summit meeting, and hence my dear brother Sheikh Isa bin Salman al-Khalifa could not come. . . . We hope that our future sessions will be complete with the valuable participation of His Highness in our deliberations.
(cited in: Hussain 1996b, emphasis added)
The fact that the graciousness was probably intended to signal Qatari generosity and Bahraini stubbornness (nor the fact that addressing Isa bin Salman as a "brother” despite Emir Hamad being of practically the same age as his son and heir was also probably a measured provocation) did not diminish the fact that "family” was a potent and resonating category to use and one that was used frequently. Interestingly, when just before the meeting, Bahrain reiterated its reasons for the boycott and lashed out against Qatar listing all the wrongs it had committed against it, it used the same familial references, but in an accusatory fashion by expressing regret for the '"unfriendly and unbrotherly stance of Qatar toward Bahrain, which has included threatening Bahrain's national security and stability” (cited in: Hussain 1996b, emphasis added). Clearly, from the Bahraini ruler’s perspective, Doha had broken the family norms it was expected to upkeep, and this was infuriating, not just the behavior per se. The norms (of what constitutes "unfriendly” and especially "unbrotherly” behavior between the countries) and Bahraini expectations to its application were in place despite the Qatari non-adherence to them. This is also exactly what made Qatar’s nonadherence so deplorable for Bahrain. Evidently, despite the conflict, both sides accepted that the similarities between the "brothers” vastly overshadowed the differences, an obvious indication of ingroup identification.
This was not restricted to the level of discourse but also extended toward symbolic politics and rituals signifying and signaling commonality. For example, despite the difficult relationship between the emirs of Qatar and Bahrain, after Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa's sudden death in March 1999, Qatar declared three days of mourning (Teitelbaum 2001b, 502). In April 1999, as soon as Emir Hamad succeeded his father in Bahrain, he renewed the call for cooperation on kinship grounds and “oneness”:
We are one country and one people and oneness in all fields with Qatar is a must, with the objective of achieving a real rapprochement. . . according to the wishes of the two brotherly peoples. . . . This is an invitation from me to the brothers in Qatar to fulfill everybody’s hopes.
(cited in: Teitelbaum 2001a, 196)
The invocation of "family” is formative for foreign policy behavior as it raises the stakes of conflict and the urgency of cooperation. Statements by Bahraini officials confirm this impression as when Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa said in 2000 that "this dispute threatens to cause deep friction in the Gulf and Arab family links and lead to tension in the region while exhausting our resources and obstructing the aspirations of our people” (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 81, emphasis added).
Both states accepted the decision of the ICJ in March 2001 and have fully enforced the ruling so that the dispute was settled in finality. Bahrain was more enthusiastic than Qatar in that it basically affirmed the status quo left by the British (Wiegand 2012, 87). The day after, the ruling was declared a national holiday to celebrate the resolution (Alter 2014, 176), further cementing the preference for cooperation between "brotherly people”. Qatari Emir Hamad, although not completely happy with the ruling, insisted that it
will enhance the security and stability of our Gulf states and contribute to strengthening the GCC.... I extend [to Bahrain] a hand that has always been full of fraternity and cordiality so that we can close that page and open a new chapter where the two brotherly people take part in planning and deepening our future relations.
(cited in: Al-Arayed 2003, 404)
Bahrain's Emir Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa also emphasized the bond between the countries and the finality of the settlement:
We salute the ICJ over its wise verdict and declare our complete acceptance of its ruling. We have given orders to take the necessary measures to ensure its implementation, taking into consideration that the outcome of the verdict is a joint gain for both the brotherly states of Qatar and Bahrain. We have jointly won the battle of the future and the time has come to open a brighter, new chapter in our relations and to accomplish the dreams and aspirations of generations of Bahrainis and Qataris.
(cited in: Al-Arayed 2003, 404)
Despite different sentiments toward the final ruling, both stressed the close bonds linking the two states (and their ruling houses) as family, not just neighbors or friends. It was therefore never questioned that this was an issue that needed to be solved- not an issue that needed to be won.
The familial references were so obvious and ubiquitous that they were adopted by external observers as well. Writing at a time of heightened tensions between Qatar and Bahrain after the latter's discovery of a spying network inside the country, Colin Young put his hope of "bringing the two feuding ‘brothers' back into the family” on Saudi Arabia (Young 1997). According to analysts cited by Wiegand. "Bahrain’s position was based on the necessity to solve the dispute in a brotherly and amicable way. The aim must be to maintain the family ties and spirit of unity between the two nations" (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 92, emphasis added).
Apart from family rhetoric, the ingroup identification of the Al Khalifa and Al Thani also found its expression in the role of the GCC. By institutionalizing Gulf links, it enhanced interdependence and mutual identification and led to a growing identification, even on the societal level (Barnett and Gause 1998, 162). This is even more true on the elite level. The GCC fostered the shared identification of Bahrain and Qatar and at the same time provided fora where relations could be personalized and interaction could become normalized and perpetuated.
The GCC is also important as an institution with explicit conflict-resolution mechanisms that enable cooperation between all members. Although it failed to solve the conflict, this failure does not imply a lacking ingroup identification. To the contrary, as Wiegand describes, the ICJ was more successful and ultimately preferable to the GCC not despite but because the latter had "close ties that interfered in the ability of the institution to work neutrally .. . the other GCC member states were considered too closely tied to Bahrain and Qatar as brotherly states” (Wiegand 2012, 88). Frauke Heard-Bey concurs:
As each one of the four non-disputant members of the GCC has some such deep emotional involvement with either Qatar or Bahrain or both, it was difficult for the GCC as an organization to agree on one course of action vis a vis these two states.
In other words, not in spite of but exactly because of the strong intra-communal ties and perception of the council as a family, the GCC had difficulties in picking sides - which would not be a problem for an international court. Therefore, the ICJ ruling was welcomed by the GCC (Wiegand 2012, 89).
Regardless of the level of tension and hostility, at all times were the Bahraini and Qatari dynasties aware of their mutual bonds and openly emphasized them, even during criticism and rebuke of the other. If the norm of cooperative interfamily behavior were not already firmly in place, there would be no need to couch criticism in such terms, because blaming Qatar for contravening intragroup norms would have little force and effect. This is possibly the clearest indication that communal norms have developed between the two.
Foreign policy restraint
The ingroup identification established and indicated by the structural similarities and social processes of identification just summarized precluded another militarized interaction or. indeed, any sort of escalation. The conflict persisted until 2001, but it remained restricted to the rhetorical and symbolic level.
Even below the military level, escalation was rare, although there was enough explosive potential inherent in the dispute. The new Qatari emir, Hamad Al Thani, recognized the sensitivity of the quarrel, and in a 1995 interview, he acknowledged its potential for destabilization: "the thorny issue of border disputes between the Gulf countries is a time bomb that could threaten the stability and security of the whole region” (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 81). He also favored a more conciliatory approach to the matter (Peterson 2011, 31).
Nonetheless, he did his part in escalating the conflict: in protest of Saudi attempts to dominate the GCC (via the election for secretary general), Qatar walked out of a GCC meeting in December 1995, leaving the other members insulted and infuriated and setting off a spiral of provocations and counter-provocations (Cordesman 1997, 48). Observers described the countries at that time as “at the brink of a war” (Lotfian 2002, 119). In March 2010, Qatar repeatedly arrested Bahraini fishers who were allegedly in its maritime boundaries (107 altogether) (Toumi 2010), but there were no more irredentist claims for more territory than the ICJ ruling had granted by any of the parties. Nothing close to a war or any sort of bilateral violence occurred in the period before the settling of the conflict (or afterwards).
While military action remained beyond the pale, the heightened tensions in the second half of the 1990s saw other forms of confrontation. Some took the form of subversion attempts. They were, however, directed not at the regime but rather at the rulers and their immediate allies.
After the palace coup in Qatar by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE began to court the deposed former emir who openly proclaimed his intentions to regain power, as if he were still in charge. Qatar retaliated by broadcasting calls for ‘’democracy” by two Bahraini opposition members, Mansour al-Jamri and Shaikh Ali Salman, over its national television and reprinting them in their newspapers. The media in other Gulf states was in uproar and attacked the Qatari government, and Saudi and UAE newspapers launched targeted attacks against the new emir, Hamad bin Khalifa, and his uncle and minister of foreign affairs, Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani (Cordesman 1997, 48). There were even unsubstantiated minors that Bahrain had struck a deal with the former emir, exchanging his reinstatement for his relinquishment of the Qatari claims on Hawarin 1997 (Young 1997).
The counter-coup attempt in February 1996 led Qatar to put heavy blame on its neighbors. According to the official Qatari version, forces of Qataris and 2000 Yemeni and other Arab mercenaries were organized by a French officer who had commanded Khalifa bin Hamad's personal guard. Qatar accused Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE of allowing those forces to prepare inside Quatari borders. The accusations went as far as to allege readiness to provide air cover for the coup and of planned assassinations against Qatar’s leaders. The Qatari government reacted strongly to the coup attempt, mobilizing the Emiri Guard on February 17 and arresting hundreds, including army and police officers and even members of the royal family, on February 20. The three countries denied all the accusations, and US intelligence did not report a buildup of forces, though senior US officials have stated that a coup attempt was being mobilized. Of the two remaining GCC members, Oman denounced the coup, whereas Kuwait did not react publicly (Cordesman 1997, 224).
With the abating of immediate tensions caused by a disagreement over the GCC secretary general, activism meant to hurt or weaken the opponent disappeared as well. Support for former emir Khalifa significantly declined in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE. Instead, Saudi Arabia and Qatar announced that they were forming a joint commission to solve their own boundary dispute (Cordesman 1997, 225). The situation in Qatar itself had calmed down once an understanding between the former and the present emir had been reached and Khalifa Al Thani had been allowed to return in October 1996 as an elder politician (Pipes 1996).
Regardless of the actual level of Bahraini and GCC support for the former emir, it was indicative of attempts to undermine the new emir, Hamad, but not his regime or the political system as a whole, thus putting it outside the category of subversion that implies subversion of the regime, not just an individual ruler. Identification as equals on the basis of political system similarity implies that regimes are upheld and protected but does not say anything about personal likes or dislikes toward individuals. Even in the extreme case of the removal of an individual ruler in a palace coup by a rival member of the ruling family, the regime stays intact. The destabilization of a regime can, however, lead to its removal, which would also remove the basis of similarity and ingroup identification and would contradict ingroup identification as a politically relevant phenomenon. In this case, however, there was no funding of revolutionary propaganda or groups that tried to change the regime as occurred often by and against republics during the high times of the Arab Cold War and that was still typical of Iranian subversion attempts of the Gulf monarchies.
Bahraini and Emirati ruling elites (who had provided political asylum to Emir Khalifa) found individual members of the ruling elite, namely mainly Hamad bin Khalifa and his uncle and Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim, "objectionable” and “disruptive” (Foley 1999). They believed that these individual people were incompatible with Gulf politics, but at no point did they question the legitimacy of the dynastic system. In the same way, Qatari support for Bahraini opposition was confrontational and provocative but restricted and not destabilizing for the regime. Al-Jamri and Salman are known moderates who called for reform, but never for a change or downfall of the regime. Both were invited back into the country by Emir Hamad bin Isa after he came to power in 1999. Al-Jamri was even offered a cabinet position, which he rejected (Krauss 2011).
Another indication of tensions and contained subversion was the arrest of two Qatari citizens in Bahrain in the end of 1996 for spying (Peterson 2011, 32). On December 2, it was reported that the Qataris Fahad Hamad Abdulla Al Baker and Salwa Jassim Mohammed Fakliri had been arrested and admitted to having spied on Bahrain on behalf of the Qatari intelligence service to undermine Bahraini security. It was also reported that Bahraini security forces had uncovered a similar spying operation in 1987. Most probably, far from destabilizing the regime, they were simply collecting evidence that would help Qatar in the territorial dispute. Barely a month later, on January 1, 1997, First Lieutenant of Bahrain's air force (and member of the ruling family) Nasser Majid Nasser Al Khalifa defected in a highly public way, flying his military helicopter to Doha to request political asylum, which Qatar initially granted (Young 1997).
After the arrest of the alleged Qatari spies, the Bahraini media reaction was furious. In a tightly controlled autocracy like Bahrain, the national media reaction can be interpreted as the message that the government wanted to send but did not dare to articulate itself. The editorial of the Anglophone Gulf Daily News (GDN), headed "Wolf in sheep's clothing”, consisted of vitriolic attacks on Qatar and included extracts like "no Gulf country ever lowered itself to the pathetic level you (Qatar) have now reached” and "We in Bahrain have always known that Qatar cannot be trusted” (Young 1997). It is an instance of a major rhetorical escalation, albeit an indirect one, via media, not any official outlet.
After the succession of Emir Hamad in Bahrain in 1999, a détente followed. Bahrain withdrew a diplomatic passport that it had issued to the Qatari emir's cousin, who was the prime suspect in the 1996 coup attempt in August. The following month, Qatar reciprocated by making the Bahraini defector Nasser Al Khalifa leave the country. Thus, both countries "made it clear . . . that battles within each other's royal family were not territory for intervention by the other” (Teitelbaum 2001a, 196), and the period of contained subversion stopped.
After the point of contention of the December 1995 GCC meeting, when the selection of the council’s secretary general was resolved between Qatar, Bahrain. Saudi Arabia, and the UAE in the spring of 1996, relations ameliorated. Bahrain stated that it might accept ICJ jurisdiction. Still, relations were far from harmonious, and Emir Hamad continued to believe that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain actively supported the coup attempt by the former emir in February 1996. The final years of the 20th century proved tense because of a number of incidents that marred bilateral relations. Both parties attempted to create facts on the ground: Bahrain started building hotels and homes on the Hawar Islands, and Qatar included Zuba-rah in its municipal elections and withdrew 82 forged documents previously submitted to the ICJ after Bahraini protests and GCC intervention (Wiegand 2012, 87). In addition to the Qatari walkout. Bahrain also boycotted joint fora that could have enabled or eased cooperation to resolve the conflict (and, of course, other serious matters, such as the dealings with Iraq and Iran). It refused to attend the GCC meeting in Doha in 1996 in protest of Qatar's unilateral decision to put the dispute to the ICJ, and it declined to participate in the QIC meeting in 2000, which also took place in Doha (Wiegand 2012, 80).
Although all these activities suggest a high level of tensions, they are not indicative of a willingness to escalate or a preference against restraint, given that they were only mildly provocative and highly contained in their reach and ambition. There was no threat of violence and no sign of targeted action or even delegitimization attempts aimed at the overthrow of the regime or the change of the political system.
There was still no formal alliance between the two countries, but the settling of the conflict by the ICJ opened the door for broad cooperation. Joint projects further linking Balirain and Qatar with each other and other GCC states were established, some of which had been stalled for years.
In January 2000, a "new spirit of cooperation” was expressed, and the plans for a connecting causeway progressed.11 The two Hamads expressed their intent "to go ahead with cooperation and integration steps”, including speeding up the opening of embassies. Later that month, the two countries established a committee promoting joint trade and economic projects. In a meeting on the causeway in February 2000, it was decided to allow citizens of the two states to use only identity cards for entry. For the first time, Manama and Doha exchanged ambassadors, and Qatar Airways announced that it would begin daily flights between Doha and Bahram in March 2000 (Wiegand 2012, 93). Still, full cooperation could not be achieved as long as the dispute was pending, and Bahraini officials announced that “contemplation of such projects should start after reaching a final decision on the border dispute between the two fraternal countries, on Zubara, and other issues under review at present by the International Court of Justice” (Wiegand 2012, 93).
The official statements by the heads of states on the ICJ ruling were conciliatory, although especially Qatar was not euphoric about the compromise but refrained from revisionism. Qatar’s Emir Hamad’s statements reflect the higher value attributed to conflict resolution instead of winning: “we realize that our sacrifice will not be in vain since it lays the foundation for closer and broader unblemished relations between Qatar and Bahrain” (cited in: Wiegand 2012, 93-94).
The resolution of the conflict paved the way for similar settlements in that it proved the possibility of peaceful and mutually satisfactory outcomes in territorial conflicts within the "family”. Immediately following the ICJ ruling, oil and gas exploitation resumed, and just a few days after the ICJ ruling, Qatar and Saudi Arabia declared the ending of their own border dispute of 35 years (Wiegand 2012, 89). Prince Saud told reporters after the ceremony that "With the signing of this agreement, all border conflicts between countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are settled”, and his Qatari counterpart declared that following the settlement of the conflict with Bahrain, "we are proud of our relations with Saudi Arabia” (Saudi and Qatar End 35-Year Border Dispute, Sign Accord 2001).
These developments indicate a deepening level of cooperation, further enhancing and cementing the ties already institutionalized by the GCC.
Bahrain and Qatar enjoyed the benefits of enduring ingroup identification in the second period as well, especially in the final years before (and even more so after) the ICJ ruling that settled their territorial conflict. Most indicators have remained stable, but leadership changes and the clash of the differing political worldviews and ruling ideologies first widened (after the succession in Qatar) and then narrowed (after the succession in Bahrain) the gulf between the emirs of Qatar and Bahrain. The hostility level and escalation potential rose and fell following these disniptions. Still, there was never any militarized threat or altercation.
The change was not driven by monarchic salience per se, which was low in that period due to a lacking common threat and no change in the overall distribution of monarchies. Instead, two different elements of the causal model underwent a significant change. The first was an institutional change on level of the regime/ political system. The institutional changes brought about by the liberalization and reform projects of the emir of Qatar somewhat lowered the (structural) similarity of the political systems. The second was located on the level of the political leader: the worldview, ruling ideology, and socialization of the new generation that ruled Qatari (including its Emir) weakened the personalization of the elite-level relations. This incongruence disappeared with a similar changing of the guard in Bahrain. Since the remainder of the analyzed period after the second succession in Bahrain is only two years, the timeframe might be too short to draw any meaningful conclusions. Nonetheless, the fact that most instances that most instances of hostility and provocation occurred during the period of incongruence between the political elites might be interpreted as indication of the validity of the theorized mechanism.
Ultimately, the strong and consistent ties, which were affirmed and reaffirmed even at the height of political confrontations, led not only to foreign policy restraint in conflict but to the resolution of the conflict altogether, a process ushered in by the ICJ ruling and its mutual acceptance in 2001.
Bahrain and Qatar: synthesis and findings
As the summary in Table 4.1 shows, the Al Thani and the Al Khalifa are prime candidates for a peace based on ingroup identification. Their political and economic systems are similar and have been especially after the state and institution building progressed, not least thanks to the influence of oil wealth and British (and later US) support. The two dynasties share the same worldview, especially among corresponding generations.
Table 4.1 The Hawar Islands Dispute
development at the
Initial reforms by Qatar’s emir created an institutional gap that was later bridged by the new Bahraini emir
+/ — —
Minority, growing in No change 1971, shrinking in 1979
Iran and Iraq, directed against monarchies +
Irredentism abandoned before statehood
But no diplomatic ties
Iran and Iraq, directed against monarchies
3.2 Personalization of bonds between ruling elites
Diplomatic relation development since 1997
Rift between 1995 and 1999
Table 4.1 (Continued)
They see themselves (and in extension their populations) as a large family with disputes to be resolved, not prolonged or escalated. Once the states had consolidated and once the Al Khalifa ceased to see themselves as suzerains over the Al Thani, a stronger basis for equality between the rulers could be achieved.12 Shared tradition, history, and socialization, both based on traditional sources, local customs, and British influence, shaped the institutions and mindsets of the rulers in significant ways, leading the ruling families to perceive themselves as part of an ingroup.
This perception was expressed in numerous ways, by public and less public proclamations, by de-escalatory policies, and by refraining from a retaliation spiral. The royal families engaged in frequent direct visits, and constantly valued cooperation over confrontation and similarity over difference. When differences were expressed, except for rare cases such as the GDN uproar, they were couched as differences of opinion, not more-existential and unbridgeable differences of identity and incompatibility. Throughout the conflict, statements of the involved parties emphasized the inherent desirability of cooperation over conflict, especially “among brotherly states”, a phrase deployed as something more meaningful than standard rhetoric. That fraternal basis was not only an oft-cited reason for the need to cooperate. Even when relations were tense, instead of expelling the opponent from the ingroup, the shared community and values were emphasized. The opponent’s behavior was criticized because it did not conform to intergroup norms, which continued to be accepted and expected of ingroup members.
Once the ingroup had developed, there was no need for a common threat to bind the two sides together. This indicates that the degree of monarchic salience might be more relevant for the early stages of ingroup development.
The most important evidence for the validity of the proposed mechanism can be found in constant affirmations of ingroup identity in times of severe conflict. While family rhetoric might be expected in conflict-free times, the ongoing use of metaphors of shared belonging (instead of othering and delegitimization) is especially surprising at the height of tensions. This indicates that the shared sense of identity went beyond the level of symbolic regime legitimacy but had an actual effect on foreign policy. Policy decisions and political attacks were justified by the expectations derived from family membership. Qatar needed to be rebuked for its "unbrotherly behavior” because brothers should behave differently toward each other. Had Qatar not been seen as a brother, the prioritization of policy choices might have been different.
But family and similarity-affirming discourse are not the only pieces of evidence of the ingroup identification processes at play. The rhetoric of solidarity was matched by numerous indicators of close bonds like high-level state visits, economic cooperation projects, and the acceptance of an unpopular territorial settlement. While the level of public discourse points to normative expectations of behavior, the sometimes-costly foreign policy decisions by the two countries clearly transcended the level of “cheap talk”.
The case study also shows the intricate balance between the individual and the regime level in shaping an ingroup identity. This insight lends additional support to the idea of situating the SPSP identification processes on the regime level. The logic of SPSP assumes that ingroup identification takes place on the level of the regime type and political system, as perceived by the individual decision makers, the ruler being one of them. Therefore, both levels are decisive for the formation and changes in ingroup perception. The incongruence on the leadership level between the two successions of the Hamads could not destroy the ingroup that had already formed because the ingroup was based on the regime level. Mere incongruences on the level of political leadership like the successions could not undermine the sense of ingroup identification on the level of regime. Nonetheless, this incongruence in terms of worldview rapidly led to less restraint than usual. This insight underlines not only the idea that the SPSP goes beyond institutions alone but also the idea that perception of the other is key.
The GCC represented an important element in shaping and affirming commonality: the joint political forum provided a ready-made club, prescribed behavioral norms, and reified the community based on regular meetings and ritualized procedures. While the GCC is far from a full-blown security community comparable to the European Union, it represents the most successful regional organization in the Arab world, especially on the level of leadership cooperation (cf. Cetinoglu 2010; Partrick 2011). This is possible due to a common identity present that provides the basis for GCC solidarity - including the possibility of establishing a shared front against outgroup members.
However, this sense of shared identity goes beyond monarchies; it is also “khaleeji”, pointing to a certain caveat against overestimating the relevance of the political system element in the SPSP. After all, the GCC is more than a monarchic club; it is a "khaleeji club”, based on a shared political system (the monarchic core). But it also encompasses a shared sense of history and belonging specific to the Arabian Peninsula that transcends monarchism.
It might be important to consider to what extent similarity is based on the multiple ties of culture, history, and kinship instead of the regime type alone. To separate the effect of political system from other cultural and historical dimensions, the following case study analyzes monarchies that are from different subregions. Jordan is not khaleeji, but if similar processes can be identified, it would affirm the argument that regime type is relevant or even decisive in ingroup identification.
The Bahraini-Qatari case also shows how ingroup perception relates to other factors that contribute (or obstruct) conflict management, here notably oil wealth. Solving a dispute via the ICJ among autocracies, and especially among Arab states, was unprecedented. Wiegand explains the success of this avenue with the failure of regional mediation, incentives for oil and gas exploitation, and finally incentives for cooperation between the countries since 1980 (2012). Although these elements were undoubtedly important, similar contexts have failed to bring about the same results in other territorial disputes in the region, including between Iran and Iraq or between Iraq and Kuwait. Apparently, these incentives mattered more in a pre-established ingroup.13