The Gulf Crisis and The Fragmentation of the Arab World: The Policies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan

Chapter Title

The Gulf Crisis and The Fragmentation of the Arab World: The Policies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan


Bassam Tibi



Cairo Papers in Social Science


In mid-1990, tensions were rapidly growing in that part of the Middle East now generally referred to as "the Gulf." The immediate issue was Iraq's claim that other oil producers in the area were exceeding agreed quotas and therefore keeping oil prices inordinately low. By July, a sharp confrontation had developed between Iraq and Kuwait. Baghdad not only accused its smaller neighbor of quota violations but also of having encroached upon Iraq's own oil resources. With the encouragement of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Iraqi and Kuwaiti representatives met in Jeddah at the end of the month. By then, Iraqi demands had blossomed into clear territorial claims as well as an insistence that Kuwait forgive a multi-billion dollar debt incurred by Baghdad during the eight-year war it launched against Iran in 1981. The Jeddah talks collapsed in less than twenty-four hours with no movement toward agreement. Meanwhile, Iraq's autocratic president, Saddam Hussein, amassed thousands of troops on the Kuwaiti border. Most observers remained calmly certain that the sabre-rattling would lead to no more than further talks and some eventual accommodation whereby Kuwait would pay its way out of the crisis, either in cash or possibly through some minor territorial adjustment. On August 2, Saddam surprised everyone. Iraq invaded Kuwait in massive force, initially using the transparently false claim that it was responding to a local "revolution." The tiny Sheikhdom was quickly conquered. Baghdad soon announced its annexation. Shockwaves coursed aro nd the globe in the wake of these events. The Arab World lapsed into initial paralysis which soon yielded to divisions as governments assessed their options and political pundits as well as the proverbial "man-on-the­street" took positions. Global opinion generally condemned Iraq, though at this level too there was obvious initial uncertainty over what action might be taken. The United States emerged as the leading force behind negative international reaction. The outline of a wide International Coalition calling for Baghdad's withdrawal from Kuwait soon crystallized. The U.N. Security Council imposed a trade embargo against Iraq and the measure was enforced by American and European navies. Thousands of U.S. troops were rushed to Saudi Arabia. where they were joined by Egyptian, Moroccan, Syrian, British and French forces. Over the following months these were augmented to various degrees by military units contributed by a number of additional countries while yet other states extended various other types of support. Saddam vowed that Kuwait's annexation was irreversible but called for an international conference to resolve all major outstanding Middle East problems, which in his view not only meant the issue of Kuwait but also Israel's occupation of Palestine and presence in south Lebanon as well as Syria's involvement in Lebanon. As though to emphasize its inflexibility, Bagdad in effect took several thousand foreigners hostage by forbidding their exit from Iraq or occupied Kuwait . Suspecting that this might be the case, Cairo Papers altered its publication schedule in the early fall of 1990 to make room for the present issue.

Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter

Book Title

Perscpectives on the Gulf Crisis


Dan Tschirgi; Bassam Tibi




American University in Cairo Press



First Page


Last Page



Cairo Papers in Social Science 14(1)


Gulf Crisis, Policies, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Arab expression, Saddam, Arab leadership, conflict resolution

The Gulf Crisis and The Fragmentation of the Arab World: The Policies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan