Speaker: Mabon, S. (University of Leicester)
Date: 9 July 2019
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Dr. Simon Mabon (Lancaster University) as a part of its SMA CENTCOM Speaker Series. During this presentation, Dr. Mabon discussed the complexity of the broader competition in the Persian Gulf, posed a series of questions about political Islam (any interpretation of Islam as a source of political identity and action) and organizational security, assessed the role that the US can play to bring about peace in the region, and explained how this competition fits into the broader Iranian question. Dr. Mabon explained that the tensions and events unfolding among the Arab states of the Persian Gulf affect the Iran situation. He then stated that the broader competition among these countries is complex due to the involvement of both hard power and soft power competition, in addition to disputes about religion, politics, hegemony, and influence. One example of such soft power projection in the Persian Gulf relates to political Islam and the use of Islam to justify political legitimacy. Dr. Mabon then spoke about Saudi Arabia, which has tried to exert its own agency and influence by outspokenly criticizing and firmly responding to the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia has also withdrawn ambassadors from Doha after Qatar’s increase in support for the group, which signifies the diplomatic breakdown of relations between the two nations. He also discussed Qatar’s strategic relationship with Iran and how this relationship, in turn, impacts Saudi Arabia’s relationship with Iran. Dr. Mabon stated that overall, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has changed tremendously over time as more members states gain agency and prevent others from heavily exerting influence on others. Amidst all this conflict, the potential mediator, according to Dr. Mabon, is the United States. The US must take the initiative in realigning relations in the GCC, and it must facilitate and provide a safe space for dialogue between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, in particular. Though this effort will be challenging, it is important. Dr. Mabon concluded by stating that, in this conflict, while some core issues are religious in nature (i.e. relate to nations’ Arab identity), ultimately, it is power that will increasingly divide member nations and cause the GCC to become increasingly fragmented.