The Arab intellectual storm

  • 2 December 2015

Behind every great leader is a team. It is not quite the famous saying, but it is true. The UAE’s phenomenal success, astronomical for any country let alone one only 44 years, is widely known.

But while several members of the ruling family are leading that development, they are not doing it alone. One of the most influential resources to the UAE government is the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), headed by director general Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi.

Since its establishment in 1994, the ECSSR has been crucial in helping to formulate the country’s policies, visions and progress, from strategies towards terrorism and cyber security to responding to domestic issues such as Emiritisation and handling the fall out of the 2009/10 debt crisis.

The centre was among the first think tanks in the world to identify the threats posed by political religious groups – pivotal research that included recommendations and proposals for decision makers.

“We revealed the evils of politicising religion and deceiving simple ordinary people under the cover of religious doctrine,” Al Suwaidi says.

“We also highlighted successful global models for human development, social welfare and quality standards in all sectors. The aim and purpose of our efforts were precisely to enhance the chances for peace, security, stability and prosperity for the nations of this region.”

That leading research has continued and in May the ECSSR initiated an alliance with other Arab think tanks in a project called ‘Intellectual Storm’, in reference to the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen, Operation Desert Storm, in which the UAE also has played a significant role to help restore stability.

Al Suwaidi says he hopes the alliance will create a common Arab think tank structure devoted to safeguarding the region. “I hope that it will usher in a new era for Arab think tanks in terms of their support for decision makers across the Arab countries, educating their people, and serving their national security,” he says.

“This initiative emerged from a sense of responsibility on the part of the ECSSR to serve the decision making process at the local, Gulf, Arab and international levels, in the wake of the difficult circumstances plaguing the Arab world and the dangers that loom around us. This initiative requires combining efforts, uniting Arabs, mobilising their capabilities, ensuring that decision making depends on scientific analysis and procedures, and finally building united Arab strategies which stem from conscious and insightful forward thinking.”

It is this current lack of cohesion in the region that Al Suwaidi says opens it up to criticism from outside and weakens its ability to fi ght negative forces, such as extremist organisations.

“Certainly, the GCC has recorded many significant successes – which I hope will continue to multiply – but these successes do not protect the GCC from criticism and the emergence of negative practices in society,” he says.

“The most serious of these negative phenomena is the lack of a consistent media discourse presenting a unified GCC stance towards the issues facing our region. The absence of a coherent, united media approach allows observers and critics to dwell on differences in visions and policies, and impedes building real integration amongst GCC member states.

“However, in my view, the GCC should be admired because it has managed to overcome the various challenges and crises that have faced it over the years. The GCC has not only protected its members from the tension and turmoil which has rocked the region and the world beyond, but it has moved to contain other potential risks and threats that face its members.

“In 2011, the GCC sent military forces to the Kingdom of Bahrain to quell the protests raging there and to restore security and stability for Bahrainis. The GCC also showed full solidarity with Kuwait through the Peninsula Shield forces that took part in the international coalitions in 1991 and 2003.

This demonstrated the GCC’s commitment to the principle of the common destiny and security of member states. Recently, Operation Decisive Storm represented a pre-emptive move to safeguard the sovereignty of Yemen and restore security and stability for its people.

“I hereby call on all GCC states to work toward further integration and unity on the media and political fronts in order to overcome the looming dangers threatening our region together.”

The ECSSR has now published 1100 reports and research papers analysing and, often, providing an alternative view on major political, economical, social and cultural issues of concern for the UAE.

These publications are held in high esteem amongst local, regional and international academic and intellectual communities, and a number of them are currently being taught in UAE universities.

ECSSR also now has close working relationships with reputable regional and international think tanks, fostering the exchange of scientifi c and cultural ideas to encourage greater creativity and innovation.

Many of its seminars and conferences have been held jointly with these institutions, promoting intellectual exchanges that address the major economic, energy and security issues affecting the region, and the world.

“The ECSSR has become an inspiring model of an intellectual institution with a distinguished style and numerous scholarly and research products, which in turn have served as a valuable source of reference for both regional and international writers and academics,” Al Suwaidi says.

“In fact, we perceive scholarly research and thought as tools through which to serve our society and our people.” The research also is valuable in helping to achieve the country’s basic human needs, including security and living standards.

ECSSR research is often focused on issues related to national security and sustainable development and produces studies dealing with the ongoing social and economic progress of the UAE, including environmental, political and scientific challenges.

As the Gulf’s international strategic importance grows, so too will the significance of the role and work of the ECSSR, as it produces thought-provoking reports on multiple issues and events that are increasingly having a broader impact around the world.

Embedded in the Arab world itself, it has a strategic advantage in understanding not only what is happening in the region, but predicting what is to come.

“We aim to understand the objectives of these events and developments and, based on the conclusions of our research, to define alternatives and options which serve UAE decision makers,” Al Suwaidi says.

“The centre [also] seeks to address emerging developments while they are still taking shape, including those posed by the outcomes of changes and developments occurring in this region and beyond.

Such issues require thorough intellectual analysis to protect against improper or superficial interpretation, particularly when addressing complex non-traditional issues such as crossborder terrorism, organised crime, cybercrime, climate and environmental issues, renewable energy technologies and possible future confl icts.”

Al Suwaidi’s ambitious vision for the ECSSR, in line with the UAE Vision 2021, aims to further strengthen its global status. He says its success comes down to not only the support of the country’s leaders but the united front among employees.

“There is a dynamic, intellectual collaboration between ECSSR researchers and experts alike with regard to addressing various local, regional and international issues of concern. These practices strengthen the centre’s academic output and help to ensure the credibility of ECSSR publications,” he says.