Report highlights GCC achievements – 1

Achievements mostly in the fields of backing Arab issues, launching accordance and reconciliation

Palestinian issue has always been GCC’s focal point until rights are attained

On 21st Rajab 1401 AH corresponding to 25th May 1981, Their Majesties and Highnesses, the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, State of Bahrain, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Sultanate of Oman, State of Qatar and State of Kuwait met in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, where they reached a cooperative framework joining the six states to effect coordination, integration and inter-connection among the Member States in all fields in order to achieve unity, according to article 4 of the GCC Charter.

Article 4 also emphasized the deepening and strengthening of relations, links and areas of cooperation among their citizens.

The underpinnings which are clearly provided for in the preamble of the GCC Charter, confirm the special relations, common qualities and similar systems founded on the creed of Islam, faith in a common destiny and sharing one goal, and that the cooperation among these states would serve the sublime objectives of the Arab nation.

The decision was not a product of the moment but an institutional embodiment of a historical, social and cultural reality. Deep religious and cultural ties link the six states, and strong kin relations prevail among their citizens. All these factors, enhanced by one geographical entity extending from sea to desert, have facilitated contacts and interaction among them, and created homogeneous values and characteristics.

Therefore, while, on one hand, the GCC is a continuation, evolution and institutionalization of old prevailing realities, it is, on the other, a practical answer to the challenges of security and economic development in the area. It is also a fulfillment of the aspirations of its citizens towards some sort of Arab regional unity.

The GCC Charter states that the basic objectives are to effect coordination, integration and inter-connection between Member States in all fields, strengthening ties between their peoples, formulating similar regulations in various fields such as economy, finance, trade, customs, tourism, legislation, administration, as well as fostering scientific and technical progress in industry, mining, agriculture, water and animal resources, establishing scientific research centers, setting up joint ventures, and encouraging cooperation of the private sector.

In the Arab region where political turbulence and economic upheavals create and destroy alliances in a short span of time, the six Arab Gulf countries have succeeded in keeping their grouping intact for three decades: a fact that is looked at today as one of the bloc's main achievements.

Yet, many analysts in the Gulf believe the challenges facing the bloc are growing with the evolving situation in the Arab world, as also are the needs and aspirations of the people.

"Yes, I agree 100 per cent that keeping the GCC bloc active is an achievement," said Dawood Al Shirian, a Saudi columnist and editor-in-chief of alarabiya.net.

"And I say it became clear from the recent crises, whether in Bahrain or Yemen, that the GCC is still strictly committed to the main principle which the bloc was founded on — that is [preserving] the security of the Arab Gulf states," Al Shirian told Gulf News.

He was referring to the GCC mediation to end the nearly three-month political crisis in Yemen, and to the GCC's collective defense force, the Peninsula Shield, which was deployed in Bahrain to end the unrest there which began with a clamor for more rights.

It was against the backdrop of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980 that the six Arab countries in the region decided to form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to collectively stand up to security challenges facing the region.

On May 25, 1981, leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain agreed during a meeting in Abu Dhabi to form the GCC. The bloc members shared similar political systems and a common social and cultural outlook.

But 30 years on, the expectations of peoples in the region from the bloc have risen, Al Shirian and other Gulf analysts say.

"In general, the changes the GCC introduced [during the past three decades] were very, very modest," said Qatari columnist Abdulaziz Al Mahmoud.

Among decisions taken by the GCC that have created a positive buzz are a high-speed railway network connecting the member states and a system envisaging smoother movement of goods among the states, Al Mahmoud noted.

Bahrain's former minister and prominent analyst Ali Fakro says that, despite several moves towards achieving economic integration, the achievements of the GCC have so far been "at the minimum".

"We were hoping that the GCC will be [by now] an economic bloc similar to the European bloc. We were hoping that the foreign policy will be by now a unified one, which is not. Even on the security issue, I don't think much has been achieved," Fakro said in an interview with Gulf News.

Among achievements that may be listed is the establishment of the GCC common market in early 2008. A customs union was agreed on in 2003 but has not been fully implemented until now and still needs more time. Plans for a single currency too were adopted but are yet to see the light of day.

But Abdulaziz Aluwaisheg, a minister plenipotentiary and the director-general of international economic relations at the GCC headquarters in Riyadh, stressed that 90 per cent of work towards establishing the customs union "has been achieved, and the rest is in progress".

Before the GCC formation, there "were 400 different levels of tariffs in the GCC countries," he told Gulf News. Today, there "is a unified common external tariff of 5 per cent across the board, and 10 per cent of the commodities were totally exempted from the tariffs".

The GCC members together possess almost half of the world's oil reserves but tensions abound mainly due to concerns about the Iranian nuclear program coupled with accusations of Tehran's interference in the internal affairs of countries, mainly Bahrain.

Regional tensions seem to coincide with the unrest sweeping many Arab states. Today, politicians and analysts tend to believe that there is a growing feeling among the peoples of the Arab Gulf region that there is a need to support the founding security goal with a strong social, economic and cultural system.

"I think the beliefs of the peoples of the Arab Gulf states in the bloc are becoming now stronger than before. They [people] sense the importance of the grouping. This, I believe will accelerate the cooperation among the members states in other fields," Al Shirian said.

People usually feel a sense of attachment to any alliance that gives them a form of security and safety in difficult times, noted Fakro.

The GCC succeeded in instilling such a sense of security in its people during the current bout of unrest in several Arab countries, he added.

"Of course people feel attached to any form of economic and living safety, even in the security field, even if it is partial safety," he said.

Fakro said the Gulf region's nationalist tendencies had only strengthened the premise for the GCC. Now, after its "people realized that the Arab nationalist movement has weakened so much, and the coordination among the [22] members of the Arab League has reached its lowest levels, people became more attached to the GCC more than anything else because it provides the general needed security", he added.

Established in 1981, the GCC is the first alliance grouping to be formed in the Arab region after the Arab league, which many accuse of being inactive in solving Arab issues.

February 1989 witnessed the formation of two other Arab blocs. One in Asia, the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), among four Arab countries, and the other in Africa among five northern African Arab countries called the Arab Maghreb Union.

The ACC was founded in Amman in 1989 by Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and North Yemen (before the unification of the two parts of Yemen). The alliance was formed out of a desire to foster closer economic cooperation and integration.

However, the ACC was short-lived. It didn't survive the Gulf crisis that erupted with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The ACC ceased to exist within a few months after the crisis.

The idea for an economic union among the Maghreb countries — Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Mauritania — was there long before an agreement was reached.

In February 1989, the five signed an agreement to form the union, which, though still in existence, is not as active as it was expected to be supposedly due to a border dispute between Algeria and Morocco.