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The GCC in 2021: Outlook and Key Challenges


Chatham House experts look ahead at what’s in store for the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries in 2021.

US-GCC relations

Sanam Vakil

The departure of the Trump administration will be felt across the GCC as the incoming Biden administration is expected to change US policy on Iran, renew conflict management efforts in Yemen and prioritize human rights concerns. President Trump, whose first foreign trip in office was to Riyadh, was well received in the Gulf for his maximum pressure campaign against Tehran, support for Saudi Arabia’s position in the Yemen war and defence of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Trump administration’s role in facilitating the normalization of ties between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel will also be warmly remembered by Gulf states. The UAE and Israel share both threat perceptions and an ambitious regional vision, alongside their growing economic ties, and will both aim to coordinate and manage their broader regional involvement in line with the Biden administration's Middle East strategy.

While keeping an eye on developments in Washington, the GCC also sought to start 2021 off on a positive note at home. Although unity on Iran policy seems far off for the time being, the successful resolution of the Qatar blockade will help bring more stability and allow the GCC countries to focus on their economic diversification agendas, attracting foreign investment and delivering the October 2021 Dubai Expo and 2022 football World Cup.

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