Secretary-General of the GCC: Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic are priorities in the next stage of the Gulf Common Market and Customs Union

The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research held an interactive dialogue with His Excellency Dr. Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf, Secretary-General of The Gulf Arab States Cooperation Council, marking the 40th anniversary of the Council’s establishment. His Excellency Dr. Sultan Mohammad Al-Nuaimi, Director General of the ECSSR moderated the session, which was broadcast on Tuesday, 25th of May 2021.

The session, titled, ”GCC: Fifth Decade Perspective”, covered a range of issues, focusing on the Council’s goals and its achievements during the past four decades, as well as its plans for the coming decade. The session highlighted ways in which the Gulf partnership can be further strengthened amid ongoing regional and international challenges.

At the beginning of his speech, Dr. Al-Hajraf pointed out that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has overcome many challenges since its founding in 1981, such as the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Al-Hajraf spoke of the importance of joint economic projects between GCC states, and the role of these projects in promoting cooperation. He noted that the completion of the GCC Rail Network would double, and potentially even triple, the volume of trade between the GCC countries, which was valued at $90 billion dollars in 2019.

With respect to the role played by the GCC in fostering regional security, Al-Hajraf reiterated that the security and stability of the GCC countries are pivotal to regional and global security. He insisted that the GCC has been, and will remain, a voice of wisdom and balance, and that the GCC has firmly established its influence in international affairs, especially in relation to security and stability in the region. Through this credibility, the GCC has proven its reliability in partnerships with allies globally.

Discussing the so-called "Arab Spring", Dr. Al-Hajraf said that many Arab countries are still suffering because of its consequences. He pointed out that the Gulf societies are distinguished by a unique and firm social contract that regulates the relationship between the people of the Gulf and their leaders. He stressed that this social contract must be protected, that the Gulf Nations must not sacrifice their security and stability for the interests of others.

Regarding the role of Iran in relation to achieving stability in the Gulf region, Dr. Al-Hajraf noted that as Iran is a neighbor of the GCC states, they have the right to be suspicious of its behavior. The GCC states cannot be expected to accept Tehran’s interference in many Arab countries, such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Dr. Al-Hajraf said Iran’s actions represent a direct threat to the security and stability of the region. He emphasized that establishing good neighborly relations with Iran requires it to stop interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, respect the Charter of the United Nations, and stop threatening military force, as well as end its support for terrorist and extremist groups.

As for the war in Yemen, Dr. Al-Hajraf said that the Gulf Cooperation Council supports the Saudi initiative to end the war. However, he pointed out that there are parties seeking to hinder this initiative. Dr. Al-Hajraf stressed that a solution to the Yemen crisis will only be found through engagement in a joint political process, in which all parties participate. This must be based on three important factors: The Gulf initiative, by executing its mechanisms; the outcome of the Yemeni national dialogue; and respect for Security Council Resolution No. 2216.

Regarding the Council’s outlook for its fifth decade, Dr. Al-Hajraf said that it has three important priorities: to strengthen and achieve the requirements of the Gulf Common Market, to fulfil the requirements of the Customs Union, and to learn from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, Dr. Al-Hajraf stressed that the Gulf Cooperation Council is looking ahead with high expectations, which require ongoing synergy between the Gulf states to maintain their achievements.