The GCC summit: A forward leap for rights

The statements and the joint communique of the 35th GCC summit which concluded last Tuesday focused attention on regional order and human rights. Until recently, it seemed that the GCC alliance was going to collapse. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had withdrawn their ambassadors from Qatar and there were indications that things would get worse. Now this seems to be something of the past, more importantly the outcome of the summit was crucially different. After more than thirty years of unfulfilled promises of past summits, one’s optimism ought to be careful. However, I cannot help feeling this time it is going to be different.

Qatar’s turn around

The GCC’s approach to regional order is based on the necessity of unity in the foreign security policies of the GCC countries; in working towards regaining the authority of the state in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen and rejecting the existence of non-state actors functioning outside the constraints of the rule of law such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Huthis in Yemen. Moreover the GCC raised the level of security cooperation between member states by forming a GCC ‘Interpol’ and a joint naval force. Discussions towards creating a joint military command are progressing.

The articles of the declaration are very similar to that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Abdullah Hamidaddin

The signature mark of this summit was that Qatar for the first time in many years declared its alignment with the foreign security policies of other GCC countries. The Qatari pledge of support to President Al-Sisi should be seen as a full U turn. That pledge is a turnaround even if Al-Jazeera continues to criticize Al-Sisi. Qatar’s foreign policies since 2011 contributed to regional disorder especially in its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Nusra Front, but now it decided that regional order would better serve its security interests. The rise of ISIS is now seen as symptomatic of the breakdown of order rather than merely a radical religious movement. And the only way to combat ISIS - and other forms of terrorism – is by filling the cracks brought about by the breakup or weakening of the state in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and Libya. Also Iran’s meddling in the region is also seen through the lens of disorder. Iran’s regional influence is only made possible due the weakness of states. It remains to be seen how this new and developing GCC security regime is to be sustained.

GCC Human Rights Declaration

If Qatar’s turnaround is the signature mark of the summit, the GCC Human Rights Declaration (GCC-HRD) is the most significant outcome of this summit, and many summits before. Order and combating terrorism cannot only be achieved through security measures. Those are necessary but not sufficient. A reformed social contract is also necessary and this summit made a leap in this regard.

The articles of the declaration are very similar to that of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They state rights of political participation, freedom of expression, equality without discrimination between men and women, religious freedoms, a clean environment and social security. There are important differences of course between the GCC-HRD and the UDHR which are worth a separate analysis. But in general they are due to religious and cultural considerations, and even with those differences one can see a common spirit in both the GCC-HRD and the UDHR.

I cannot overstate the importance of the GCC-HRD. Here we have a document on human rights born and ratified by Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states. The impact of the GCC Human Rights Declaration can be better seen in light of the pivotal impact the Helsinki Declaration of 1975 had on promoting human rights in the Warsaw Pact countries. The Helsinki Declaration made it legitimate for Warsaw Pact citizens to demand the rights which their leaders pledged to protect. Those rights were no longer a capitalist tool. In the same light, the GCC-HRD legitimizes many of the rights that are considered a product of ‘Western Imperialism’. For the first time, GCC citizens have a framework for rights articulated, legitimized and sanctioned by their own leaders.

Needless to say, a GCC-HRD is a first step in the right direction to curb current infringes on human rights and detailed mechanisms for protecting those rights need to be developed. But this is a great leap forward for human rights in the GCC countries and should be recognized and celebrated as such.

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 Abdullah Hamidaddin is a writer and commentator on religion, Middle Eastern societies and politics with a focus on Saudi Arabia and Yemen. He is currently a PhD candidate in King’s College London. He can be followed on Twitter: @amiq1

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:45 - GMT 06:45
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