Exploring the Need for a Gulf Union

Article Summary
During the most recent Arab Summit meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi king put forth proposals to extend the scope of the Gulf Cooperation Council to a full-fledged monetary and political union. Here Youssef Makki explores the history of the GCC and explains why such a move would be justified by the desire of the Gulf peoples.  

The Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) unity finds itself in the spotlight once again. In his speech during the opening ceremony of the 34th annual GCC summit in Riyadh, Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz called upon fellow GCC leaders to shift from a phase of cooperation  which has thus far lasted for more than three decades  to one of union, in response to growing threats and turmoil in the Gulf.

The king's call was clear and explicit: He demanded the formation of a Gulf union within a single political entity, citing the current challenges of a world where there is no longer room for the weak.

The GCC was formed amid complicated circumstances more than 30 years ago. In the late 1970s, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League after it signed the Camp David Accords with Israel. Furthermore, in the early '80s, the region witnessed war between Iraq and Iran, a war that posed a direct threat to the security and stability of the Persian Gulf and affected some of its states.

In light of these challenges, the Gulf leaders held a summit in Abu Dhabi on May 25, 1981, which resulted in the formation of the GCC. During the first meeting of the Council, a cooperative formula was declared between the six Gulf states. This agreement involved setting up a coordination and interdependency framework among the countries in order to achieve unity, as stipulated in Article 4 of the Council's statutes. The establishment of the GCC was an important step toward strengthening the ties of solidarity and integration among the countries of the Persian Gulf.

The Gulf leaders were hoping that the formation of the GCC would be a step forward in the creation of a Gulf citizenship and the establishment of some sort of federation among GCC countries. The GCC would promote security and stability in the Gulf, contribute to preserving Arab identity and achieve economic, political, social and cultural integration. The Gulf countries’ great similarities in many fields  most importantly the convergence of their political systems and cultural ties, not to mention their kinship, territorial contiguity and common destiny  were the main grounds behind the organization's creation.

On that basis, Gulf unity should be the intuitive response to the security and stability needs of Gulf citizens. Gulf unity requires vigilance and, for such unity to be preserved, a united stance to "live up to our responsibilities" will be necessary.

The cherished dream of a unified political entity comprising the GCC countries has long lived in the collective consciousness of Gulf citizens. For them, this unity would be their guarantee against both the greed of dictators and various forms of foreign intervention. Under any circumstance, unity has always been a strategic requirement. It is the only way for these countries to establish strength and power and restructure the demographic composition of the Gulf  in a world there is no place for defeatists. Unity is also the only way for the Gulf to preserve its Arab-Muslim identity.

Should this be achieved, it would mean a shift toward establishing a common army, a set of policies and currency as well as common educational and development programs. Gulf unity would also pave the way for the smooth flow of labor and capital throughout the GCC countries, which would promote economic growth and protect Arab identity. It would also reduce the possibility of foreign meddling resulting from the high rate of imported foreign labor in the GCC countries, which is disproportionate to the number of native citizens.

We are optimistic about the upcoming phase. During the next summit’s opening ceremony, the Gulf ministers of foreign affairs will present on five issues that address the economic and financial integration of a Gulf monetary union. They will draft resolutions regarding rules and regulations about common stocks, bonds, deeds and investment funds in Gulf financial markets. The ministers will also submit a recommendation to form a judicial committee responsible for settling economic differences or disputes.

This project will play a key role in shaping the region’s future. Thus, it is crucial that it become a public concern, addressed by intellectuals and those interested in public affairs. This would represent a major step forward for the project in that it would help it genuinely reflect the needs and aspirations of the people of the Gulf.

Intellectuals should be the first to be interested in Gulf unity. Dialogues and seminars ought to be held to discuss the unity project at the social and cultural levels. This would expand the options available to Gulf leaders so that they can establish a civil Gulf state which would be a source of pride for their people.

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