Through a deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Saudi Arabia on November 27, vice-president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi recently named opposition leader Mohammed Basindwa as Yemen’s new interim prime minister.

Basindwa is mandated to immediately form a new government in the lead-up to elections on February 21, 2012. Under the GCC agreement Yemen’s president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, resigned his power to vice-president Hadi in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

While this event is a clear sign that Gulf monarchies are keenly aware of the need to engage on issues of domestic unrest in the region, the integral role of the GCC, as opposed to popular Yemeni representation in this final political settlement calls into question the monarchies’ true commitment to liberal reform and the extent to which the GCC will continue to influence revolutions in the larger region. 

The controversial arrangement is not the first time the GCC has drawn public criticism over its involvement in the Arab Awakening. GCC member states have already demonstrated a decisive influence that could pave an extremely unstable path for potential democracies throughout the Arab world.

The GCC was initially established in 1981 as a subregional organization to forge economic and political cooperation/integration between six Gulf countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The GCC has also recently invited two other countries, Jordan and Morocco, to apply for membership.

This coalition of exclusively Sunni Arab monarchies is one of the most powerful economic and political blocs in the Middle East. While power shifts and new regional actors emerge in the coming years, the GCC will remain a formidable alliance as nascent democracies struggle to develop and stabilize. Status-quo power dynamics as well as the containment of Iran, form the crux of GCC member states’ policy strategy as the Arab Awakening continues to unfold. Looking forward, however, such a strategy, will likely be problematic. Nevertheless, GCC interests in Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, and Libya could very well influence political developments throughout the region.

Bahrain: GCC member states openly supported the violent suppression of pro-democracy uprisings, sending a clear message to their respective citizenry that the revolutions of Egypt and Tunisia would not be tolerated in the Gulf. Bahrain’s GCC member status and its geopolitical position relative to Iran will likely stop any resurgence of demonstrations in the near future, but certainly not forever.

Egypt: Rampant fears that Saudi Arabia heavily funds Salafist parties, with extreme and often violent Islamist platforms, fuels insecurity over external influence that could undermine the country’s still fragile move towards democracy. The Saudi royal family’s Wahabist beliefs are in fact an off-shoot of Salafism and follow similar, fundamentalist interpretations of political Islam.  

Syria: The GCC’s strategic interest to weaken the Assad regime with the goal of further isolating Iran, undoubtedly helped propel the Arab League’s recent decision to impose economic sanctions on Syria. The move was approved under the pretext that the regime must end its violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and forge diplomatic solutions towards reform and stability.

Libya: In a clear demonstration of their commitment to mutual security and economic interests in the larger region, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar offered military assistance to Qaddafi’s opposition and Western allies through NATO operations in Libya. Prior to the mission, GCC representatives also denounced Qaddafi’s use of force against civilians and called on the Arab League to initiate measures to prevent further bloodshed.

Ultimately, the GCC’s inconsistent strategy towards regime change only provides short-term answers to long-term political trends in the region. While the coalition may see stability in the next few years, pro-democracy movements on the Arab streets will inevitably isolate these monarchies in the coming decades.

Mass demonstrations will continue to cycle through Arab countries and from this movement, public standards for political transparency and accountability in governance will soon limit the scope of the GCC’s presence and its ability to politically navigate through the region. While efforts towards economic integration will allow such countries to maintain their positions as important regional players, many Gulf monarchies will fall under increasing pressure to provide viable answers to internal calls for true democratic reform.

Although influential now, the GCC’s policies towards the Arab Awakening are simply unsustainable. Member states must adopt a more consistent approach to this regional phenomenon or face a tangible crisis of legitimacy.

Rena Zuabi is with the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative.