GCC Needs a Revolution, not Reinforcement
By: Hussein Ghabbash Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
Gulf citizens tend to be well-informed about their regional issues, and few of them took the Riyadh Declaration seriously. The declaration, issued during the GCC summit in December 2011, aims to move beyond Gulf cooperation towards a single GCC union. The possibility of a GCC union remains a dream of the citizens of the Arab Gulf countries. They believe that having a Gulf union would shield them from internal divisions and deterioration, and protect them from harmful dependency on foreign forces. Furthermore, the citizens of the Gulf maintain that the union is an essential solution for their region’s dangerous demographic impasse. However, both subjective and objective indicators fail to inspire optimism. The history of the GCC and its limited accomplishments throughout the past three decades are very discouraging. The question that arises is, how will we be able to build such a grand edifice on shaky foundations?
About This Article
At a recent GCC Summit, member states revisited the concept of a full union of Gulf countries, surpassing mere cooperation. Hussein Ghabbash explains the obstacles to the formation of such a union - and why the citizens of the region would be better off placing their faith in the democratic ideals of the Arab Spring.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
What Should we Expect from an Arab Gulf Union when the GCC has Proven Itself a Failure?
Author: Hussein Ghabbash
First Published: January 19, 2012
Posted on: January 25 2012
Translated by: Nola Abboud
The GCC contains a series of contradictions and structural problems related to the nature of its political authority, in addition to its ideological nature, the result of the political background of its [member states]. The regimes within the GCC and the prospect of a union do not qualify the council to become a union. The nature of the GCC’s political structure and the official ideology of the GCC countries would negatively influence the nature of the desired union. If we want to talk about a GCC union, we cannot ignore the [potential] member countries of this union.
A fact which is verified by the regimes themselves is that the ruling families do not only rule the nations but also own the territories of these nations. The ruling families own the lands, including the wealth; and since they are the owners, they do not know any better than to treat their citizens as subjects. The famous Arabian Peninsula and its people are called “Saudis,” a name derived from the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Could such a culture create genuine, engaged citizens in our era?
The official Arab Gulf background does not create rulers in the political and legal arenas; instead, it creates followers. Becoming a follower does not only eliminate the national identity of citizens but also their identity as human beings. An individual cannot become a true citizen if he is stripped off his will. But how can an individual become a true citizen that enjoys free will in a place fully controlled and owned by one ruling family?
Moreover, special interests are a microcosm of the opposing forces. The proof of the latter is that the council failed to agree on the project of a union or to reach a consensus on GCC foreign policy. It did not stop there, for the council did not succeed in standardizing financial and economic orders, adopting a unified currency, and economic policy harmonization. In addition, the council failed to resolve the aggravated border disputes between the GCC countries. The truth is that the situation in the Gulf does not involve disputes between nations over border violations that can be solved by wise men from both conflicting sides, but border disputes between private kingdoms. That is why we are unable to arrive at fair solutions to these illogical disputes.
Let us refer to a number of examples. There are lingering disputes between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which still believes that it was unjustly treated by Saudi Arabia; and between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which believes that it is obliged to take up the disputes of the weak. In addition, there are disagreements between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, after the former unjustly took control of a large part of the UAE’s territory, including rich oil wells. Certainly, we cannot forget the disagreements between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which are likely to pop up in the political arena after the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and the establishment of a democratic Yemeni Republic. The disagreements are over Yemen’s national sovereign rights, a matter that the Yemenis will not ignore.
The GCC, which was formed in 1981, was not the product of a strategic plan or a united renaissance, but a response to the Iranian Revolution and its implications. The toppling of the Shah of Iran, an ally to the Gulf regimes, played a role in upsetting the balance of power in the region. The revolution was a blow to the Arab Gulf rulers and a threat to their regimes. For this reason they decided to join ranks and form a defense force. Today, the strong winds of the Arab revolutions have uncovered fissures and confusion in the GCC structure. The formation of a GCC union comes as a response to the recent Arab Spring, for union is expected to serve as a protective shield against the winds of revolution.
These policies seem to be reactions that lack any form of wisdom. We have not witnessed any wisdom in most adopted decisions or recognition of the requirements of this era. Hence, it has become clear that these countries will continue to lurch from one crisis to another.
How ironic that the security of the regimes is in constant conflict with the security of the people! The separation between the security of the regime and that of its citizens occurs when the regime fails to represent its citizen and loses sight of the common interest. The reason behind this is that the personal interests [of the rulers] have not been replaced by the lofty [ideal of] national interest. [Self] interest always replaces [national interest] and marginalizes it. This is a known fact.
Normally, it is known, the citizens come second. They are perceived [by the regime] as opponents until they prove their loyalty and dependence; only then are they accepted as followers.
We have witnessed how the authorities in Saudi Arabia deal with political opponents and their legitimate demands: The estimated number of prisoners in the Saudi Kingdom is between ten and thirty thousand. We have also watched how the Bahraini authorities dealt with the non-religious reform movements [there].
Every regime has its own political ideology and terminology. Never - in any official speech since the establishment of the Gulf Emirates in the 1970s - have we heard any mention of social or national security or sovereignty. The Arab Gulf has also witnessed during this period a breach in cultural security. Everyone is aware that there is no sovereignty in the Gulf, and that the national will has been replaced by globalization. Cultural [integrity] is no longer part of the national conscience; the issue is not even acknowledged by Gulf intellectuals.
Similarly, the concept of “citizenship” is absent from the official political ideology; for if the Gulf countries were to realize the existence of the citizen, the regimes would be forced to acknowledge the citizens’ rights and carry out certain responsibilities. It would also mean that the regime would have to ensure the establishment of [civil] society and a constitution to manage relations between citizens and the ruler, something contrary to the nature of Gulf rulers at present.
Certainly, we exclude Kuwait from the rest of the Gulf countries, for it has built its political system on a modern constitution established in 1962, and entered democratic life following its establishment.
No transition is needed in the Gulf states to reach [their desired goals] - only a revolution [seeking] reform. The Arab revolutions will definitely make their impact felt in the Gulf, for they constitute a historical movement. The desired Gulf union would only serve as another military and security structure built by rulers who have not yet realized that they are living in the modern times. Finally, this union would certainly not voice the aspirations of the citizens of the Arab Gulf.
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