The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar, managed to sidestep extant tension in favor of cooperation amid the pandemic. In mid-April, after a virtual meeting, the bloc’s countries agreed to establish a network to ensure food supply safety—with Saudi Arabia and Dubai surprisingly putting aside their existing anger with Qatar for funding terrorist groups, which led to a broad boycott (by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and others) of that country that remains in place. And while this cooperation is a remarkable step, the bloc has not—as some Western scholars suggested it might—banded together to lead the global COVID-19 response.
Besides facilitating food protection, GCC countries are largely trusting themselves to fight the pandemic on their own. Acting individually, GCC countries have enacted some of the strictest measures in the world, including location-based contract tracing. Kuwait has taken perhaps the most drastic measures, including closing government ministries until May 31 and expanding a nationwide curfew to 16 hours, while most Gulf countries have shut down entertainment centers and mosques are telling people to pray at home. These countries, by essentially negating civil liberties have had some success fighting the pandemic—but it is precisely because of this illiberalism that the GCC are not primed to lead any type of global response.
GCC countries are also facing an economic downturn, despite its member countries offering support packages of hundreds of billions of dollars that dwarf any seen before in the region. Its banks are still expected to weaken, however, as not all borrowers will be able to weather the impact of the economic decline. The GCC’s members, which account for one-fifth of the world’s oil production, have also slashed oil production amid the global drop in oil prices, prompting concerns about regional efforts to boost revenue. “Monetary reserves can’t sustain the current spending for too long” meaning “they may have to cut spending,” said an anonymous Saudi banker. “It’s difficult times. People are starting to talk and beginning to prepare for what could come next.”
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