Ten years ago when Yemen said that it wanted to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), many understood this request to be a joke, as Yemen, for those who know their geography, is not a gulf country. However, the latest summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council held in Riyadh addressed the request and the surprise came when a preliminary approval was endorsed, however, some preconditions were set.
The truth is that such a surprise is a positive one as membership to the GCC is not only a matter of location as much as it entails integrative efforts according to the concepts laid out by its founding members. Yemen does not overlook the Gulf but it shares a lengthy border with two countries that do, namely, Saudi Arabia and Oman, with borders that total 1700kms.
The dilemmas of bringing Yemen into the GCC are many, the simplest being the geographical aspect. These dilemmas stem from the weak security system in Yemen, in addition to its weak economy. A country of 20 million people, who are sustained by the government’s modest five billion dollar budget, is destined to suffer greatly. Furthermore, it would shift its economic burdens to countries that are overloaded with their own. However, we may recall that the European Union had postponed the memberships of Spain and Portugal whilst it assisted both countries in strengthening their economies before granting them full memberships. This is also currently taking place with eastern European countries that have requested membership to the European Union. Such countries wait to be granted membership to the EU as they join the race for major economic reforms, accepting a number of laws that they previously regarded as inappropriate. The question that comes to mind here is; how will it be possible to narrow the wide gap between the income of Yemeni citizens on one hand, and their counterparts in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, on the other hand?
We should remember that Yemenis have worked for years in Gulf countries and are well known for their perseverance, patience and their acceptance of low wages due to the basic jobs that they undertake the shortage of skilled labor amongst them, and a low level of educational background. Nevertheless, if Yemen joins the GCC, it would benefit the economies of other GCC countries that export their labor from various parts of the world.
The second dilemma in the Yemeni affair is concerned with security since the country is incapable of preventing the increase of armament, in addition to its weak surveillance of rugged areas. This, in fact, is an unrelenting problem that will remain regardless of whether Yemen becomes a member of the GCC or not due to the proximity of Yemen to the GCC countries. The security collaboration that we are currently witnessing between Yemen and GCC countries is promising. Recently, Sanaa extradited 16 wanted Saudi criminals to Saudi Arabia, and accordingly, Riyadh handed over 11 wanted Yemeni criminals to the security authorities of their country.
There are many procedures that the Yemeni government must undergo in order to be admitted to the GCC. These fundamental steps of law reform, improving government performance and controlling security would be in the best interest of Yemen even if does not join the Council. These measures are easier to achieve than the requests made by western countries that insist upon the necessity of fair elections and political freedoms.
To ensure that it should grow and be able to keep up with the rest of the oil-rich GCC countries, Yemen must encourage and protect foreign investments. Yemen is also an oil rich country, producing 400 barrels of oil a day, the majority of which is exported. A Norwegian company had lately discovered a new oil well in eastern Yemen and it is quite possible that Yemen lies over more oil resources in the region.