Beyond oil: Unity and development in the gulf

Mohammed Al Rumaihi
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This article’s title is identical with that of a book I wrote and had published nearly half a century ago, which was a foresight of the future and an expression of an entire generation’s aspirations to see the phase of oil exploitation being utilized through investment in human beings. Five decades later, several of those aspirations have been fulfilled – although not in their entirety. Nevertheless, the full achievement of them is underway, as is clearly seen in the results of the 42nd GCC Summit in Riyadh held last Tuesday. The Summit is living evidence that the path to the full achievement of these aspirations is obvious. However, it is also not free of obstacles.

I will start by pointing to the lamps along this path that have been recently lit. They include a number of economic agreements signed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman with some GCC countries during his latest Gulf tour. Most of these agreements relate to developmental projects, and a majority of them are between activists in the private or mixed sectors in the Gulf countries, which entails a simultaneous involvement of people and expansion of the market. In the budgets of GCC countries, the components unrelated to the oil industry are noteworthy, especially compared to the oil component some years ago. This means that these budgets are supported by economic activities outside the realm of petrol industry, most of which are modern activities that include manufacturing industries, services, along with touristic and cultural activities. The latter has a significance that surpasses its economic value, and extends to its humanitarian and cultural aspects, which are both tightly related. In another connected issue, expenditures on the societal component in GCC countries budgets are also remarkable, and here it should be stated that some Gulf countries need an urgent review of the condition of their educational and training sector, in order to refine and polish it. This is a sector that must be thoroughly and accurately reformed from its roots, that is; since the early school years.

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Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour prior to the GCC Summit has paved the way for a new economic hope, and more importantly for a large sector of the GCC peoples with its strategic dimension. Meanwhile, all these economic and developmental achievements might be at risk due to the notable instability in the GCC’s vicinity, particularly with the Iranian regime’s frightening ambitions and its unjustifiable aspirations of expansion. Until the present, the Iranian issue does not seem to have a potential rational conclusion at sight, neither on the regional nor on the international levels. Hence, it is prudent and wise to get prepared and be well-guarded for any possible changes, especially as such changes might entail a deterioration that leads to a confrontation. The vicinity of the GCC countries is not reassuring, and its conduct is rather hard to predict. At any rate, the Saudi Crown Prince’s tour has achieved that well-preparedness through unifying the views toward flagrant threats, which are even more dangerous to smaller countries. Hence, it is essential to construct a united line where marginal differences – seen by the peoples of the Gulf as secondary - should be put aside, and instead focus on the larger issues of common vital interests and a joint willingness to defend the Arab Gulf and preserve its stability. None of these could be achieved if a particular Gulf country deluded itself into thinking it would remain safe once the storm has raged.

A view of the 42nd GCC Riyadh Summit’s final statement clarifies the priorities, which entail the absolute priority of the region’s stability, pointed to it by the statement as ‘integrated’. In the same vein, the member countries demanded participation in the discussions on the Iranian nuclear file underway among major world countries, since that file is the door through which security threats might pass. Meanwhile, the statement also handled the economic aspect, in response to the necessity of fulfilling the prerequisites of economic unity - a good deal of which has already been achieved. The social aspect also received attention in the statement, as it called for enhancing women’s empowerment and active participation in development. The Statement also hit on the importance of focusing on the youth by providing them with additional training and enablement education, and it paid attention as well to the issues of terrorism and drug abuse, pointing out that both constitute a war on the entire GCC countries, and a tool to undermine their open-minded societies.

The statement also dedicated part of its attention to the significance of food and water security, hinting at the situation in Egypt and Sudan, and it regarded cybersecurity and digital transformation as top priorities, both being the pathways to progress in a par-excellence digital age.

As a matter of fact, the Riyadh Statement represents a qualitative leap, particularly as it also paid attention to regional shifts – mainly in the Arab countries of Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, and Libya. Equally, it seems that the Riyadh city has been approved to become the permanent center for hosting future GCC Summits, regardless of the state that presides each summit. The latter is another qualitative leap that moved GCC Summits from their ceremonial and folkloric flavor to a more practical mechanism. This might even lead to reviving the concept of consultative summits that, earlier on, used to be held in between two major summits, especially as world events are accelerating, making the likelihood of unforeseen surprises on the regional and international levels a probability that should not be overseen by any acute observer.

On a related issue, and as precaution towards external challenges is of utmost importance, one should also recall that internal challenges are never less essential. Hence, the statement’s hint on the essentiality of education and training refinement is probably the proper base for standing up to both internal and external challenges. Meanwhile, it must be accompanied by the formation of an enlightened public opinion, which is the second and equally important task.

With the prevalence of social media platforms, there are some who misuse them, by intention or ignorance, due to lack of awareness, or deliberately by hostile political sides, to misrepresent and distort facts. Hence, these platforms turn sometimes to battlefields upon which citizens of the Gulf countries wage wars of words against each other, at times even inside the one and same country. Most of the circulated posts are fabrications and lies, and anyone who observes the content of these platforms regarding political and societal aspects finds that it contains loads of false stories that distort awareness, disrupt relations between GCC countries, and threaten national unity by circulating doubt-provoking fabricated messages.

It might be helpful to recall that the aspirations of a particular ambitious regional power is to see these infiltrations lead to destabilizing national unity, inciting civil strife, and achieving societal fragility – in hope that the societies of Gulf countries would then become self-destructive and disintegrate on their own – just as is happening in front of us in all the Arab countries where the regional infiltration, and under various pretexts, managed to destabilize national unity and turn the country into a failure state.

It is not an easy task to handle this awareness-distortion caused by very advanced techniques of modern social media that might lead someone into doubting himself as well. This is a gap that needs to be addressed and scrutinized by people of concern in the GCC, to attempt to lessen the harm caused by it. A good countermeasure might be to construct alternative platforms that track and define the circulated fake news, and instead provide the right and correct stories, accompanies by adopting the policy of transparency in public relations of all state institutions, and speaking directly to the audience; the people.

To sum up, the fifth decade of the historical procession of GCC countries indicates that what lies ahead of the Riyadh Summit differs from what preceded it, as preserving and defending the developmental achievements has become a common objective.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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