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GCC union: Putting right step forward

Gulf News Special Report Published: 00:00 March 11, 2012

It was the call of the Saudi King to Gulf leaders at the December summit to 'move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union within a single entity' that sparked a debate on whether the countries of the bloc are ready to form a union. Gulf News writers Jumana Al Tamimi, Habib Toumi, Samir Salama and Sunil K. Vaidya bring the views of analysts in the six GCC countries on the issue.

ADVOCATES Analysts across the six-member Gulf Cooperation Countries, to whom Gulf News spoke, were almost equally divided over the call of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz which was backed by other GCC leaders. King Abdullah said: "I ask today [December 19, 2011] that we move from a phase of cooperation to a phase of union within a single entity. "You must realise that our security and stability are threatened and we need to live up to our responsibilities." Dr Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, Professor at the UAE University, says the proposed union must be as unique as the Gulf Cooperation Council and be based on the 30-year-long cooperation experience. Dr Abdullah said the Arab Gulf Union is a message from the governments of the Gulf countries to their peoples that the union is the Gulf plan for the future and a message to Iran that the new Gulf entity is a strong, well-defended fortress. "Unlike the GCC, which was created to cope with threats such as the Iranian revolution, the Iraqi war and Afghanistan, the Arab Gulf Union evolves from the Gulf that is strong, confident and having a mood of greater cooperation," he said. Last month, Kuwait's parliament Speaker Ahmad Al Sa'adoun, however, expressed his doubts saying the suggested union is "unlikely" because of the differences in political systems of the member states. ‘Hurried statement' But Mohammad Nasser Al Senussi, a former Kuwaiti information minister, said: "Ahmad Al Sa'adoun made a hurried statement... He should not have made such a statement, and he was criticised," Senussi told Gulf News.


Kuwait and Qatar. "Prince Saud has clarified some very important issues related to the [proposed] union. security and defence. More time needed More time is needed for the consultative committee. to form a union with countries whose prisons are full of thousands. security. Bahrain and Oman are less rich than oil and gas giants Saudi Arabia." a term used in Saudi Arabia to refer to those facing charges of terrorism. claiming to speak as "a Gulf citizen". "Honestly. Al Saqr said. What has been implemented in Kuwait and has succeeded is not a formula for success in another country. he added. chairman of the Gulf Research Centre." he said. include the worries that it could negatively affect the sovereignty of member states and the differences in the economies of the member states. it will be "premature to jump to any conclusion at present about the suggestion". military and economic affairs. particularly in the business field. "The union. These issues. 2 . very difficult for a country like Kuwait that grants freedom of speech and where people are represented in parliament. or "fears". it should be [also] marketed to the peoples [of the GCC member states]. for example. which "is still in the studying phase"." Al Saqr said. which includes all member states "to revisit the subject again. who are guilty of speaking their minds. "The concept of the union is to have a unified policy towards the most important issues in foreign policy." Prince Saud said. Sovereignty Al Sa'adoun told Al Arabiya: "It is. For example.. will not be used as a medium to interfere in their internal affairs. look at it. address it. and look at the reservations. and said it will have positive impact on the all members. UAE. "Once they agree. fears and assurances of each country".. It aims at formulating effective bodies enjoying flexibility and speed and the ability to execute policies and programmes. Therefore. I believe Al Sa'adoun should have said that those in prisons are facing the charge of deviant thoughts."I wish if there is a country that has reservation over a certain topic to overlook some self-limited interests and sacrifice for the sake of the group. adding that the union would strengthen GCC cooperation in different fields including the political." Al Saqr said. analysts said. said Abdul Aziz Al Saqr. Everybody in the GCC countries will benefit from the formation of a union among the member states." Saudi Foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz stressed last week that the proposal would not affect the sovereignty of any member country. Al Saqr told Gulf News." said Al Saqr.

said the GCC scheme faces great challenges that could derail it ahead of a union. the editor-in-chief of Qatar's Arabic daily Al Arab. OBSTACLES For some analysts. the managing director of Tawasul. feels that the Gulf Union is feasible because the countries share similar language. traditions. and financial policies. there was no need for further explanation. Oman." For many Bahrainis. "The Arab awakenings assert a leadership position for the GCC in the Arab world and this could be reinforced through a union." Dr Ebtisam said." Relative prosperity Khalid Al Safi Al Haribi. kingdoms and sultanates. Dr Ebtisam Al Kitbi. an Islamic scholar and Bahraini activist. turn into a union. Oman will gain from joint political. Other countries have reservations and wariness. fulfil the aspirations of the Gulf citizens and confront all kinds of challenges. said the union of the GCC member states "will boost people's well-being. He believes the unity experiences of the European Union. after 31 years of its establishment. citing Kuwait's newly elected parliament speaker. said that he supported the concept of the union. opposes setting up a Gulf Union. Abdul Lateef Al Mahmoud. who shared Al Mahmoud's views on the union. a Bahraini political analyst. said to an audience: "We want to go back to our union or unity before colonialist forces forced us apart into statelets. and beliefs. ward off problems. Ahmad Al Romaihi. a researcher with a legal background. there are differences among the six member countries over sovereignty and independence. Ahmad Al Sa'adoun's recent statement to Al Arabiya that it 3 . for instance. Oman.More than two months before the Saudi King's call. history. apart from the long positive experience of the bloc in bringing stability and relative prosperity to its peoples." said Jaber Mohammad. According to Al Haribi. "While there is no unified political will that may transform the GCC into a greater integration entity." he says. a union among members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should be preceded by internal reforms and by resolving political and cultural differences. but insisted that it had to be gradual integration and that the grouping should remain a confederation. Maghreb Union and others could also serve as comparative studies to understand the do's and don'ts of such unions. Ahmad Al Aradi. defence. "It was clear that the GCC should. professor of political science at the UAE University.

they are treated like foreigners who enter the Kingdom with their passports. in a reference to Saudi Arabia. Emiratis are not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia with their ID cards. "Economic integration or the Gulf Common Market has not yet been realised. a unified army and defence system. So. opponents to the union attributed their scepticism to the fact that the GCC could not achieve a genuine common market or a monetary union. the GCC successes. even though they are numerous. an Emirati writer. a federation like the UAE. cultural and development projects. ‘Economic integration' Citing the European Union's integration scheme. agrees and said that before transforming it to a Gulf Union (GU). Instead." He stressed the importance of having crystal-clear goals designed to unify the Gulf countries in more ways than just economically. it does not make sense that unlike citizens of other GCC countries. Is it prompted by a security development? Will Kuwaitis. with a common market. Dr Ebtisam added that small countries in the GCC need assurances that in a union. For Saleh Al Kuwari. whichever country they choose to live in. or a confederation like the EU?" asked Dr Mohammad Bin Howaidin. "We need clear answers to questions such as why this union is to be created. Failing to achieve this goal will adversely affect the end product of the integration process as a whole — creating a weak union." Also. Dr Bin Howaidin said a successful union entails addressing differences between the GCC member countries. the GCC members should first remove obstacles hindering joint economic. Mohammad Al Hammadi.was difficult for Kuwait to enter a union with a state with thousands of prisoners of conscience. Certain countries are not effectively committed to that market. is it a single state. the big would not dominate them. Dr Bin Howaidin suggested that it is time for the GCC to move a step forward to a greater integration or a stronger confederation and then to an EU-style confederation. integrate with other less liberal members? Is the UAE. the editor in chief of Qatar's Al Raya. are still below the expectations and aspirations of the Gulf citizens. who are more liberal politically. professor of political science at the UAE University. 4 . a foreign affairs commission and a Gulf court. "Citizens of the six member countries should be seen as equal. one of the most culturally tolerant and open countries in the region. prepared to integrate with another conservative country such as Saudi Arabia? And what form of integration schemes are we after.

" he further added. economic and financial fields. Raid Zuhair Al Jamali said that for the proposed GU to take shape." he wrote. such factors are deeply entrenched in the Gulf political mentality. and with Bahrain in 2011 when it was confronted with security tension. the most crucial step towards the Gulf union is to boost reforms within the GCC countries to ensure greater participation by their citizens while preserving security. "Integration? Yes. and." However. and each wants everybody else to adopt its position. there must be a broad-based shift in will power. Although he agrees that all six GCC member states would benefit — economically. "We would like to have a union like the European Union. stability. a leading columnist on legal affairs in Oman." he said. Union? Not without internal reform. the slightest difference over a border issue sparks an all-out political and media war between the countries involved. in siding with Kuwait against the Iraqi occupations in the early 1990s. "The GCC has succeeded as a regional alliance in resisting the tensions of the First Gulf War. the military harmony is not reflected in the political. Ahmad Al Nayem."The successes do not match the ambitions and hopes of the people. he said. "I believe that the transformation of the GCC into a more integrated union would be challenging as was apparent from the GCC's unsuccessful attempt in creating a unified currency. a Bahraini agreed: "These tasks were less formidable than a union. Writing in the Arabic daily Al Sharq. "Unfortunately. national cohesion and social well-being. ‘Unified currency' A leading legal expert in Oman also thinks that formation of GU would be a challenge. Political analyst and leading journalist Awadh Al Baquwair thinks the GU is not feasible. yet the six GCC countries could not agree. but with the vast cultural and political differences between the GCC countries. For Al Jaber. Ali Al Jaber said the talk about integration into a federation is a bit exaggerated as it is not readily achievable and people should have rather talked about integrating into a confederation. One of the most learned and respected Tweep from Oman." he said. "There is still a lot of mystery and vagueness on several economic issues." said. 5 ." reckons Riyadh Al Balushi. I find it difficult to look towards a common future for all of us with optimism." he said. socially and in all fields — from the proposed GU. mainly the financial union and the Gulf bank. for instance.

• The Shield was based near King Khalid Military City at Hafar Al Batin in Saudi Arabia under the command of a Saudi officer. adding that foreign policies of each state could be a major bone of contention. challenges • Unified foreign and defense policies: In 1984. employment and pensions. remains a stalled project. • Challenges facing the bloc: The GCC customs union. was delayed again until 2015 and the GCC common currency." he pointed out. even with Oman and the UAE formally withdrawn. Different political systems in the GCC. health and social services. capital movement and tax and education. the GCC defense ministers agreed the creation of the Peninsula Shield Force. Acceleration of economic integration of the member states. The common market agreement in the beginning of 2008 was a historic milestone that addressed movement and residence." "The main challenges the GU could face is the different policies of the GCC states. Opportunities. • The Dh55-billion GCC rail project. investments and ownership. • Other successes include the completion of the second phase of the three-phase GCC power grid. Differences in size of their economies 6 .4 billion in electricity costs. training.1-billion project is set to save the GCC states Dh18. The Dh5. Collective benefits to the countries' people from unified policies and strategies. • • • The member states continue to have border disputes. agreed upon in 2003. The force could be enlarged at a time of threat. especially when it comes to dealing with Iran. agreed upon in 2003 and mandated in 2009. "I am not sure if Oman would prefer such a union. a joint intervention force.He is also pessimistic about Oman accepting the proposal. and military curricula and to accomplish compatibility of their military systems. The six GCC states are keen on a common concept in building their defense forces and endeavour to have unified operational procedures. is expected to be operational by 2017. • • • • These states have very similar social and cultural identity.