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June 1, 2012

Arabian Gulf states and an era of cooperation

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Recently, the Saudi capital, Riyadh, hosted a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders. In the meeting, there were serious discussions about forging closer relations among the GCC member states. The GCC members were looking for political integration to counter the many challenges in the area. The meeting came at a time when all political, economic and intelligence observers were focusing their analyses on the GCC member states.

The Gulf Cooperation Council or (GCC), was founded on May 26, 1981. It consists of six members — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the UAE. The six countries cover an area of about 3 million sq. kilometers in the southwest part of Asia with a population of around 30 million people. Saudi Arabia is the largest with an area of more than 2 million sq. kilometers and a population of 27 million. Saudi Arabia was founded on Sept. 23, 1932. It is ruled by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. The State of Kuwait has an area of more than 17,000 sq. kilometers and a population of around 3 million people. Kuwait is headed by Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. Kingdom of Bahrain covers an area of about 750 sq. kilo meters with a population of more than a million. Bahrain is ruled by King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa. The State of Qatar covers an area of around 12,000 sq. kilometers with a population of about 2 million people. Qatar is headed by Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Sultanate of Oman covers an area of more than 300,000 sq. kilometers with a population of around 3 million. Oman is headed by Sultan Qaboos. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a federation of seven emirates (principalities), each governed by an Emir with one single national president. The emirates are Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Um Al-Quwain, Ras Al-Khaimah, Al-Fujairah and Ajman. The country has an area of about 84,000 sq. kilometers with a population of about 8 million. The UAE is headed by Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahayan.

The Gulf Cooperation Council started in a very unfashioned way. There were no lengthy meetings between foreign ministers, no hot debates between lawyers and no auditing of the state banks. It was a casual meeting between the leaders of the Gulf states in Riyadh and everyone agreed to form the council. The six Arab Gulf States are very homogenized and the people share the same interest. All the six Gulf states were united even before forming the council. All governing bodies have the same system and the people are connected by hundreds of years of constant contacts. You can find common family name in the six countries. And many of them are related. Also, the people of the Gulf states wanted this unity since 1970.

When the council was founded, many political analysts didn’t expect it to last. They saw many unity proposals among many Arab states, but, they saw the unity ending without any fruitful results, such as the 1960s unity between Egypt and Syria when they formed the United Arab Republic. It turned out that the six Arab Gulf states are more solid than what a lot of experts thought. The six member states had fruitful annual meetings between the leaders and many other activities either social or political such as the sport championship events. The GCC member states have advanced in many fields, such as education, health care and infrastructure.

Education and health care are free for all citizens. And all the Gulf states have scholarships for their young men and women to attend the best schools in the world. The GCC states are the only countries in the world that have no income tax. What money you make is yours. Some analysts might say, it is the oil barrel, but many other countries have more oil than the GCC, but they didn’t use it for the good of their people.

Nowadays, the six member states enjoy a very important and strategic place in the world. And GCC member states surpassed many countries which were more advanced in the past. We see UAE airports have higher capacity than some international airports. Qatar is hosting the world cup. Bahrain is an organizer of the Formula One race. Kuwait has one of the strongest stock markets. Oman has one of the best health care systems. Saudi Arabia is a G-20 member. Now the GCC member states have one of the best infrastructures in the world in addition, the Gulf sates have very powerful and advanced armed forces.

And while there are many disturbances in the world, either the Arab Spring or the economic crisis in Europe, development activities in the GCC member states are in full swing. Stock markets in all GCC member states are stable and all GCC countries have increased the wages of employees. We see mega projects in the Gulf region that are intended for the comfort and progress of its people.

The most important unseen form of democracy in all six member states is the way the governing body and the people are bonded. Any citizen in the Gulf area can attend a Majlis where the leader of the country would have an audience and will listen to the citizen personally. The GCC member states have also used their assets to help other countries and organizations around the world. The share of the GCC in the development banks is huge.

We have seen many analysts looking at the GCC member states during the Arab Spring and some of them underestimated the unity and the strength of the GCC countries. Also, during the past four years, the Gulf states became very transparent in tackling the difficult issues facing them. And compared with the rest of the world, the GCC countries don’t have threatening issues. The major ones are, reducing unemployment, the Bedouin issue (stateless) and only one country in the GCC have an opposition group, but with reforms and negotiations, the issue could be a history.

Abdulateef Al-Mulhim is Commodore (Retd.) of Royal Saudi Navy.