Radical changes needed to meet people's aspirations

  • 24 March 2011

Abu Dhabi: Gulf countries must introduce radical changes to cope with the political turmoil sweeping across the Arab world and live up to aspirations of their people, experts here said.

The reforms include the granting of full civil and political rights to its citizens, formation of a Gulf confederation, a unified parliament, Gulf armed forces, and a court of justice and the provisioning of a $100 billion (Dh367 billion) Marshall Plan to support Arab countries grappling with emerging democracies, experts added.

"The Gulf countries have to strengthen the concept of citizenship and grant their citizens priority in the job market and promote public participation in decision making," said Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi, chairman of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), in his remarks at the closing session of a regional security conference in Abu Dhabi yesterday.

Al Suwaidi said the political turmoil in Arab countries can only be dealt with through political and economic stability as well as reforms that cement social cohesion.

Dr Saad Bin Tafla Al Ajmi, former Kuwaiti minister of information, suggested creating a Gulf confederation made up of the six member countries, a Gulf court of justice and a unified army.

Al Ajmi said he believes the unified army will defend the Gulf countries, cut defence spending and corruption in arms deals.

Stressing that he was not demanding overthrowing the present regimes in the GCC countries, Al Ajmi said as a citizen of a Gulf country he just wanted to modernise the political channels to broaden political participation.

He also suggested setting up a $100 billion Marshall Plan to bail out Arab countries grappling with emerging democracies, particularly Egypt.

Dr Ebtisam Al Kitbi, professor of political science at the UAE University, said political unrest in any country can never be addressed by force.

"The GCC countries have to grant their citizens full political, economic and civil rights. They need political democratisation, which entails an expansion of political participation in such a way as to provide citizens with real and meaningful collective control over public policy," Ebtisam said.

According to Dr John Duke Anthony, president and chief executive officer, National Council on US-Arab Relations, citizens of GCC countries broadly believe they hardly have a political say in their governments' affairs.

He said achievements of the GCC countries have been primarily in the realm of geopolitics. One of the successes of the GCC was its role in ending the Iran-Iraq war while simultaneously preventing the expansion of the Iranian revolution to eastern Arabia.

The GCC also played a pivotal role in the reversal of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait; yet another is its success in aligning its external defences with an array of credible powers.

The Sovereign Wealth Funds amassed by the GCC countries are a significant achievement, as is the role these countries have assumed in the recovery following the recent financial crisis.

The GCC's role in the agreement that formalised the political compromise in Lebanon, and its role in stabilising Yemen are also noteworthy.