Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

My apprehensions about the Gulf Union | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will meet in Riyadh tomorrow to discuss the proposal to transform the group into a Gulf Union. I will be opposed to this proposal if it includes any of the following negative aspects:

I would oppose the Gulf Union if it forces Kuwait to abolish its parliamentary system and concept of political participation just to appease Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman. I would reject the proposal if it forces Bahrain or Dubai to implement Kuwaiti and Saudi regulations restricting social freedom, such as closing down cinemas or curbing tourism and hotel services.

In the same vein, I would not support a Gulf Union that meant that Qatari women would be banned from driving, in line with Saudi regulations. The same applies if a particular education system was imposed upon all states. I would side with the opposition if the Union treated the comparatively free Saudi press as equal to the restrictive Qatari press, or if the relatively free Kuwaiti media was restricted to fall in line with similar media organizations in other member states.

At the same time, we don’t want Kuwait’s political diseases, in terms of tribal and sectarian factionalism, to spread to other states. Likewise, we don’t want the Shiite-Sunni conflict in Bahrain to impact upon other GCC members.

We don’t want a Gulf Union that nullifies the features of any Gulf society, or takes away the right of any state to adopt measures it deems best for its citizens. We certainly don’t expect the Union to interfere in the internal political affairs of a member state, or its sovereign decisions.

I have put forward my fears and concerns to those who are discussing the proposal, and they have informed me that the Union would not impose any restrictions on member states and would not force them to adhere to the regulations of other countries. Bahrain would maintain its social character, while Kuwait would preserve its history and political achievements. The Sultanate of Oman would continue to follow its educational system and the UAE would continue to be a federation.

If this is the case, then what is the need for a Gulf Union?

The reason is that the path of cooperation, despite its failures in some aspects, can no longer accurately describe the current status of the relationship between the Gulf States. Many countries have bilateral “cooperation” agreements with the Gulf. The reality of today is closer to a union, and it would be of no harm to rename it as such. I believe that the word “union” is frightening to some Gulf citizens, as it brings connotations of federalism like the United Arab Emirates or the United States of America. Critics emphasize that a union is inappropriate in this region given the imbalance of the member states. Saudi Arabia is five times bigger than the second largest GCC state Oman.

Yet we saw these same fears emerge among the member states when the GCC was formed in 1981.The main opponents to the GCC were Kuwaiti intellectuals who feared that it would lead to their large neighbor Saudi Arabia occupying their small country. But these fears were dispelled when Saudi Arabia came to rescue Kuwait after it was occupied by Saddam Hussein’s forces in 1990.

During the past 30 years, Kuwait has in fact emerged as a burden for Saudi Arabia, firstly as a result of Saddam’s occupation and then due to Iran’s continuous threats. It was at the time of its establishment that the GCC was a Saudi-American plan, and later we saw the construction of US military bases in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. There were also fears that Saudi Arabia would impose its strict religious views on other member states, but later we learned that Kuwait was influenced far more by the Iranian revolution than Saudi religious ideology.

I think the political and social concerns regarding the establishment of the Gulf Union come from a lack of clarity around the proposed idea. King Abdullah had in mind the concept of the European Union (EU) when he presented the proposal during the last GCC summit. It is a concept closer to a confederacy but not federalism itself. The proposal clearly stated that the new Union would not interfere in the sovereignty of member states. Hence if we take the proposal from a positive frame of mind, we can understand that it does not aim to impose any system, nullify the character of any member state, or marginalize any ethnic group.

However, those who are concerned about the Union should have the right to express their fears and set out their conditions. Britain, for example, agreed to join the EU, and later on became one of its most important members and advocates, but only under certain conditions as it was keen to preserve its independent currency and immigration rules.

I am confident that the Gulf Union is the best option for all GCC member states. Time will prove that it is a good proposal that deserves to be supported with a positive mindset.