Attention! The positive developments in the Gulf region give reason to rejoice. There is a dynamic movement towards the future and development. The Gulf is no longer only associated with fundamentalism, Bin Laden, Suliman Abu Ghaith [al Qaeda spokesman], or women who are excluded from participating in public affairs. Neither is it simply about the absence of pluralistic societies and democratic governments – that is, ‘democratic’ in the Western sense of the word.
There is another face to the Gulf region, an image that has not been consumed and exhausted by the media. The reason for this excessive media attention is due to the fact that the Gulf has had its share of problems, which moreover have been under intense scrutiny over the past few years. However, they were the very same years that witnessed the dissolution of numerous media taboos.
Let the starting point be economic figure and dates. In a recent issue of the Arabic-language edition of ‘Newsweek’ magazine, American researcher, Afshin Molavi wrote a report about an “Unprecedented boom in the Gulf that is changing the face of the region.”|
This report is a review of a book written about the Gulf region by a colleague who is a researcher in the New America Foundation. The author visited the region repeatedly and met with leadership figures, including Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai [who is also Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE)].
According to Molavi’s report, “the Gulf States are living their golden years. Business is booming and political conflict has become a detached phenomenon that is observed on flat-screen television sets in air-conditioned lounges in Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh.”
The International Finance Corporation (IFC) upholds that, “Oil has enabled the Gulf States to reap huge sums [of money] over the past five years, reaching US $1.5 trillion.” It appears that matters will continue to progress along the same course: “By the end of 2007, the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] will have acquired an additional US $540 billion – a figure that exceeds the exports of Brazil, India, Poland and Turkey combined,” according to the IFC.
Such surges and booms will bolster the Gulf economy to the rank of 16 worldwide, as maintained by the IFC, which also stated that, “If the current trends subsist, the GCC region will become the sixth largest economy in the world by 2030.”
Edmund O’Sullivan, an editorial director and economist based in Dubai, said: “A new Gulf is rising and it is moving in a smarter and faster manner than it did back in the ‘70s.”
Meanwhile, after dealing with the concerns expressed by numerous observers regarding the expenditure of the money resultant of this current boom, Molavi stated that the Gulf States spent a substantial sum of their 1970s revenue on infrastructure but that another portion was spent in vain. He stressed that the IFC had estimated the financial surge in the Gulf to be one trillion dollars from oil revenues, while approximately US $1.5 trillion remained with the GCC countries, which was the spent on imports or development.
However, there remain concerns over the existence of wasted expenses in some form or another, in addition to the presence of concerns about expenditures in ‘new’ sectors, such as real estate and tourism. Contrastingly, what remains a source of comfort is the increased expenditure on industrial development.
Perhaps the most prominent example of this is the Saudi petrochemicals industry. According to Georgetown University’s Jean-Francois Seznec, Saudi Arabia is moving towards becoming the number one producer of petrochemicals in the world. He estimates that it will attain this rank by 2015.
Many in the Gulf hope that this second boom can be beneficial in a manner that is sustainable, systematic and transparent. We must not forget that the present generation in the Gulf is not the same as the one in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Many have learnt and advanced a great deal, while the youth in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states have mastered the world of ‘business’, armed with a ‘Bedouin’ shrewdness and international degrees and expertise. Today, the private sector makes an essential contribution to the GDP. For example, the largest private sector in the Gulf region; the Saudi private sector, currently contributes 60 percent to the GDP – after a former 10 percent in the 1970s.
But it doesn’t stop there; there are many indications portending that the Gulf has finally taken flight into the world of international economy, with the presence of the ‘weighty’ Saudi economy, which has a worldwide impact, in addition to the ‘contemporary’ and ‘swift-moving’ UAE economy.
And yet, the picture is not completely rosy; there will always be obstructions along the path of hope. This is where I disagree with Molavi when he said that people in the Gulf are simply sitting “on sofas in air-conditioned rooms” observing the problems of their neighbors unfold whilst their bank accounts are growing?!
This is an inaccurate image that is no less different from the accounts related by Western travelers about the affluent lazy people of the Gulf, which is simply an extension of the stereotypes and perceptions of the travelers in the past who maintained that the East was rich with its perfumes, harems, singing and magic.
The truth is that our neighbors’ problems are spitting fire and poison into the Gulf region, all of which has had an impact on our internal security, culture and on media mobilization.
The problem is that Gulf countries have often, and still continue, to intervene in the problems in the region. However, nothing has been gained from these ‘mediatory’ interventions to extinguish fires except additional problems and doubts.
Everyone remembers Sheikh Zayed’s initiative to resolve the Iraq crisis, giving Saddam Hussein [and his family] exile, while sparing Iraq the fate it has endured. But the Arabs attending the Arab Summit in Egypt (March 2003), along with Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, rejected the initiative, which only made matters worse.
Prior to that initiative was the one proposed by King Fahd at the Arab Summit in Fez (November 1981) to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. But the initiative was attacked by significant Arab figures. Presently, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, a monarch whose popularity transcends the borders of his country, leads the way along the path of initiatives to resolve Arab problems. But, others, such as the ‘brothers’ in Hamas have ruined the initiative and destroyed the faith.
It’s true that interventions have dual meanings; they are intended to rectify the situation of others so that their crises would not affect the Gulf region. However equally, they also denote political leadership – rather than leaving that seat of power vacant for Iran or the US to occupy.
This point was broached by Lebanese Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, in the his article that was published recently in Asharq Al-Awsat in which he said that in a discussion with King Abdullah, the Saudi monarch had stressed the importance of Saudi intervention in both Lebanon and Palestine, since “they concern all Arabs”. The King also said to Siniora, “You do not have to remind me, brother, of the situation in Lebanon and Palestine and Iraq, as we have not, nor will we ever neglect them. This is not simply by virtue of the danger we may be subjected to in the aftermath, but rather because it is our moral and Arab duty.”
But the problem today does not lie in the intervention of the Gulf countries; it is present and is, in fact, the only useful Arab intervention, as it is not linked to an ‘exhausting’ political or ideological agenda. But the problem today lies in the fact some people in the Gulf are calling for the reduction of these interventions; firstly, because those they intercede on behalf of do not appreciate the efforts, and because it only ends up maligning the people in the Gulf. And secondly, the Gulf States have their share of problems and those of their neighboring countries – and as the saying goes: those closest to you are more worthy of your virtuous deeds.
As previously stated, the Gulf is on the verge of a major breakthrough; in fact, it has already begun. Still, this does not eliminate considerations of the existing problems. Is it conceivable that a country like Kuwait suffered numerous electrical power cuts this summer?! How is it possible that a country like Saudi Arabia could have a problem with poverty and an impoverishment in the field of university education when the Saudi economy is one of the world’s largest economies?!
The Gulf represents the only bright economic horizon in the Arab world; however, the Gulf region, and especially Saudi Arabia, is in dire need of plans and mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of this economic prosperity.
We are not calling for a halt in the intervention in Arab issues – which normally do not get resolves in any case – however, we must say that this intervention by the Gulf States should not become the target of our Arab brothers. This is so that they may finally get fed up by the disputes and wars so that they can take intervention seriously when it does take place, and so that this intercession, in turn, may be effective.
The other dimension to this is so that the Gulf region could have the opportunity to focus on the management of the revenues resultant of the present economic boom, whether by the government or the private sector. This should not be accomplished through direct disbursement to be handed out to traders or as governmental subsidies granted to people, but rather through the creation of a climate of sustained growth, starting with education, and a legal, transparent and cohesive infrastructure, professional media and an integrated investment environment.
The Gulf is advancing strongly – only if it is spared the pitfalls on the road and the obstacles posed by its neighbors.