People of the Gulf, unite!
Today, the Gulf States have an opportunity, coupled with risks
The Arab world is now open to all options and the accelerating developments entail a myriad of dangers. Today, the Gulf States have an opportunity, coupled with risks. As they say, “during times of crises there are chances for new beginnings.” The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are facing major challenges that call upon their leaders to realize their responsibilities while taking decisive decision.
In politics, taking decisions proactively is preferable to making them under the exigencies of circumstances and necessity.
Gulf citizens live in enormous wealth, their countries having a huge gross domestic product (GDP) and political stability that makes them, in light of the anarchy that has swept across the region, an oasis of security and stability.
These are positive facts but, at the same time, their sustainability is not guaranteed especially as the accelerating changes make prediction impossible. These changes are not limited to the so-called Arab Spring or the new reality it has created, or the successive crises such as the Syrian crisis and the Egyptian developments. Rather, they could be the beginning of a new chapter of political and strategic changes in the region.
The way the U.S. has been dealing with the political problems in the region, for instance, has sent a clear message that its strategic commitment toward the region’s stability is taking a turning point, and its interaction with the new players in the Arab political arena signaled new political directions.
On the other hand, changes in the global energy market and the emergence of shale oil and the declining U.S. dependence on Gulf oil means that foreign interests will change according to these variables.
The U.S. policy is an interest-based policy rather than a principled one. As such, American policy will change according to their evolving interests. Also, changes in the global balance of power and the emergence of new powers will impose different political agendas.
Some Gulf States fear the unity of the Gulf because countries are not the same in terms of size and potentialsMohammed Fahad al-Harthi
Yet, the Gulf states remain the only states that have historically succeeded in establishing a homogeneous alliance (GCC), which has been able thus far to play an important role in the economic, social and political harmony among its member states despite what is being said about its shortcomings, project delays and modest achievements.
However, the Gulf region has serious future concerns. The growing power and expanding activities of Iran require a political response in dealing with this reality, taking into consideration the West-Iranian nuclear deal, which sends out a clear message for new trends and changes in the political map of the region.
In politics, the principle of power is paramount, and power comes from a strong alliance that imposes itself on others as opposed to the way they deal with it in any future settlements or political agreements.
The Gulf states, as societies where political awareness is developing, have started to see a growing political voice from the street and a diversity of views, which is normal in the development of any society and requires an open mind to accommodate the diversity as it is a source of strength and important to a healthy state. The freedom ofthe press and the development of the social media promoted dialogue, in addition to raising the hopes and aspirations of the peoples of the region.
The demographic problem is like a time bomb threatening the future of the countries in the region. There are a lot of changes happening in the region and they need to be handled in a different way because what was successful in the past might not work now.
The importance of Gulf unity is an obvious fact. However, the question that still persists is about the form of this new entity and how to protect the sovereignty of its member states. There has been a conviction among Arabs since the collapse of the Egyptian-Syrian unity in 1958 that any attempt at unity in the Arab world is doomed to failure.
The series of unity projects that were announced from time to time during a visit by a country's leader to another were followed by wars between these countries. The long accounts of political immaturity, which was a feature of Arab regimes, made the word “unity” suspicious to people.
Successful unity initiatives are the ones that are built gradually, with a clear goal, committed to transparency, and are convincing to the various sections of society. The European unity project had a rational motive that each of its states will benefit from its unity economically.
The character, which seems best suited to the union of the Gulf states, is the confederation formula that unites the core tasks but gives, at the same time, the required independence for the sovereignty of states.
Some Gulf States fear the unity of the Gulf because countries are not the same in terms of size and potentials. These countries fear that the larger ones will dominate the system. In its general and superficial form, this excuse is justified. However, experience has shown us that countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands were able to consolidate their status in the EU in the presence of larger countries, such as Germany, France and Britain.
Enacting statutory formulas for these blocs are the guarantee for such a project. Also the people's participation guarantees continuity and development as it makes the unity related to the people and not only to governments.
Some believe that the unfulfilled independence of some states puts an obstacle to unity, considering that the Union will be among independent countries.
This makes independence and sovereignty-seeking countries deal with any unity initiative in a more sensitive manner. In the literature of national loyalty, sentiments mix with logic particularly that the Arab people are emotional and vulnerable while issues of sovereignty require tough decisions.
It is incorrect to take crucial decisions and then portray them as reactions to events. The Union project is a strategic step. When King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz proposed the initiative to the GCC members in December 2011, he based his proposition on the fourth article for the Statutes of the GCC, which stipulates that among its objectives is “the application of coordination and integration between members states in all aspects reaching unity.” This text, which clearly signals the importance of unity, was introduced on the establishment of the Council in 1981. Hence, it’s not correct to say that such a large-scale project is a reaction to the ongoing developments in the region. The people of the Gulf should know that opportunities are coming their way but that history is ruthless. The crises of the region taught the Gulf people the importance of their unity and to speak in one voice and one vision.
Away from emotions, the issue of implementing a union initiative is not easy and has many requirements. To be realistic, there is also another side that needs to be taken into account; the organization of the internal affairs of Gulf States. The expansion of popular participation, the promotion of human rights, the consolidation of institutions and the separation of powers are key demands not only to ensure the Gulf states as independent countries, but also for their unity.
When the Union is grounded in institution-based states, the continuity becomes secured, as there is no room for improvisations or personal sensitivities.
Those who read the map of global alliances realize that the features of the new world have been formed only by the huge groupings that can easily impose their conditions due to their strength and loud voice as a group.
Now negotiations are under way to conclude a free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union. Studies suggest that such an agreement will have significant gains for both sides and can provide more than one million job opportunities for the United States. However, the studies said that the countries that will not be covered by the convention would be negatively affected.
A new world is being formed, new players are appearing, alliances are being made, and we are part of this world around us. It’s in our hands if we want to be among the major players on this planet or if we want to stay on the sidelines as a part of the big countries’ agreements or areas of influence.
Those who are capable of initiating dialogue, and understanding its requirements make the future. This area was historically a starting point of civilizations and conquests and it’s unfair to stay on the sidelines of major events.
The people of the Gulf are required to rise up to the challenges and make fateful decisions as great people only accomplish great achievements.
This article was first published in Arab News on Dec. 10, 2013.
Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi is currently the editor-in-chief of Arab News and Sayidaty. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq Al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, Al-Harthi later moved on to establish Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose to the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.