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November 3, 2012

The GCC states: Between democracy and prosperity

By Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

Whenever I read long articles with rich vocabulary in many European papers about the Gulf states, I find them to be transparent and direct in their analysis. But, they all are not clear and they fail to give a real analysis about the Gulf states. I have always thought the Europeans knew the Gulf region very well.

The Europeans were present in the Gulf since 1507. The Portuguese under the command of Afonso de Albuquerque tried to take over some area in the Arabian Gulf. After that the British ruled some of the Gulf states. The British left the Gulf region about 40 years ago. But before they left, they made many agreements of mutual understandings and mutual interests with regard to education, economy and military cooperation. But do the Europeans and especially the British understand the complexities of relations between the rulers and the ruled in the Gulf region?

Just a short time ago, I saw an interview on the BBC with a member of Parliament called Nazir Ahmed. And he mentioned that he was trying to persuade the British Parliament to do an investigation into some human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Now I am just wondering, wouldn’t it be easier for Nazir Ahmed and any British MP to take a train to the British city of Manchester and meet the thousands of Saudi students who are on Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques scholarship and talk to them. Those Saudi young men and women in Manchester are a fraction of the number of young Saudis in the whole United Kingdom who are on the most unique scholarship in the world. Their tuition fees are paid in full, they receive a monthly salary, have full medical insurance, annual round trip tickets to Saudi Arabia and they are even paid for any babysitting expenses if they have children. These young men and women are from every part of the Kingdom. Now are these human rights abuses that Nazir Ahmed is talking about and asking to the British Parliament to look into? I am not sure if the so-called Lord Nazir Ahmed had ever been to any Gulf state or even read the press in the GCC.

Now, it gets better. The European Union had criticized the Gulf states in a resolution for their human rights record. But, the European press and analysts forgot to mention that the Arab Gulf states are now the most stable and most prosperous countries in the world. They are the only countries in the world with no income tax, and have free education and free health care system.

In 1981, the six Gulf states formed a Gulf Cooperation Council consisting of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The council was founded on May 25, 1981 after a very casual meeting of its leaders. Most of the European analysts didn’t expect the council to last more than few years, but the council made enormous achievements in a very short period of time. And the center of political and economic power shifted to the Gulf states’ capitals.

The Gulf Cooperation Council encountered many challenges and obstacles and was able to overcome all these obstacles. The most challenging test was the invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. And nowadays, the Gulf states are facing the winds of the Arab Spring. The Gulf states can’t change these winds, but, for sure they have succeeded in adjusting the sails. So, do the people in the Gulf area really want any changes in their political system and adopt a Western-style democracy? The answer is: No, they don’t.

The people in the Gulf states saw the present and past changes that took place in some Arab world countries and saw the countless military coups and revolutions which brought instabilities, military regimes, dictatorship and destruction to the infrastructures of these countries.

At this very critical time for the Arab world, people in the Gulf States heard many critics from different places and one of them as I mentioned is Lord Nazir Ahmad when he talked about Bahrain. He apparently lacks the knowledge and information about the Gulf states. His talk about Bahrain is simply devoid of any knowledge of how advanced the parliamentary system is in Bahrain. The Kingdom of Bahrain is one of the most advanced Arab states with regard to the education system. Bahrain is very well known as a tolerant country and advocates equality for all its citizens. The Kingdom of Bahrain is known to be the first melting pot in the Gulf. In the past, we never heard the words, Sunni or Shiite. Bahrain is the center of commerce in the area for thousands of years.

And many of the issues which made the headlines about the Kingdom of Bahrain could be resolved with simple and transparent dialogue between the Bahraini government and the opposition. The Gulf states have a unique dialogue process between the ruler and the ruled. They are always in constant communications. But, many people in the Gulf had some apprehensions and reservations about the Bahrain's opposition. Many people in the Gulf area, even the sympathizers lost interest in hearing the opposition demands when it was clear that their demands had an Iranian flavor in them.

The other country that Nazir Ahmed wanted to shed light on was Saudi Arabia. Nazir Ahmed mentioned false information about Saudi Arabia. And for his information, the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia always mentions the number and names of any suspect who gets arrested for being a member of a terrorist cell.

To sum it up, the people in the Gulf are very happy with what they have. Yes, we want more of everything, but the people here are happy with their prosperity and stability.

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