Gexit after Brexit: Oman Wants out of Gulf Alliance

With the world’s attention focused on the UK’s “Brexit” referendum, no one noticed the trickle-down effect 7,500 kilometers away on the Persian Gulf state of Oman.
Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said issued a secret order to the ministers in his government to start laying the groundwork for the withdrawal of the sultanate from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). He sees the state of global markets as an opportune moment for a divorce from the regional defense organization, with which he is at odds.
But on June 24, the day after Britain’s referendum, Oman’s foreign ministry denied rumors of an impending plebiscite on whether to remain in the GCC or leave. In a post on its Twitter account, the ministry said British citizens made “a courageous decision to leave the EU, which some would explain as a decisive reaction to some of the policies imposed by European Commission.”
The statement was seen as a put-down of the GCC.
Nonetheless, DEBKA Weekly’s sources report that since January, Oman (whose population of 5 million inhabits 390,000 sq. km.) has been making preparations to withdraw from the Gulf organization, impelled by the following reasons:
1. Oman is not comfortable with the Saudi royal family’s strong-arming of GCC operations.
2. The sultanate’s role from 2012 as the back-channel conduit for contacts between the US and Iran caused its rulers to distance themselves from fellow Gulf emirates and move closer to Tehran.
3. The rulers of Oman deeply disapprove of Saudi Arabia’s oppression of its Shiite minority and were incensed by the execution in January of the senior Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. They are also indignant over the persecution of Shiites in Bahrain, Riyadh’s neighbor and ally.
Some weeks ago, they were shocked to learn that the jail sentence passed against Sheikh Ali Salman, leader of Bahrain’s main opposition movement al-Wefaq, who had publicly criticized the government, was extended from four years to nine years, following which on June 14, the movement was banned and its assets impounded.
Since Salman is a moderate Shiite cleric, ramping up the measures against him was seen across the Gulf region as a declaration of all-out war by Saudi Arabia and its partner against Shiites, in which Oman refuses to have any part.
4. A secret survey prepared for Sultan Qaboos by his foreign minister, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, and a special staff of experts set up by him, found that none of the sultanate’s main foreign or economic policy goals had been attained, mainly due to the restrictions imposed on GCC members.
5. Oman’s economic relations with Iran have prospered rapidly in direct contrast to its declining trade ties with other GCC states.
Mohsen Zarrabi, head of the Iran-Oman Chamber of Commerce, offered the tiny sultanate a carrot, when he said on May 12 that Tehran is considering shifting the bulk of its import and export trade from UAE ports to the Oman’s ports of Salalah and Sohar which, he said, had a good customs, rail and shipping infrastructure. A direct shipping route from Iran to Oman has also been launched recently.
6. Oman is negotiating with Iran and the UAE for authorization of a 400-kilometer pipeline from Iran to Oman, including a 200-kilometer sub-sea section, estimated to cost $1.5 billion, from the Omani port of Sohar to the Iranian coast.
7. The number of Omani companies who base their business on the Iranian market has grown fast, now standing at 260, including some of the biggest firms.

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