The GCC this month celebrates its 32nd anniversary. It must be asked, however, what exactly is the bloc celebrating?
The past three decades have only produced empty rhetoric of cooperation and unity while Gulf states in fact grow further apart.
The GCC has not only failed to streamline its political systems, perhaps the biggest of the hurdles to a union, but also its economic and defence systems. The GCC customs union, considered a major achievement for the sleepy bloc, has already been undermined by the signing of bilateral free trade agreements with foreign states and blocs by individual member states. The monetary union and currency union have been put on the back burner due to egotistical squabbling between members. The joint visa system is moving at snail’s pace, and the joint passport has all but disappeared from the agenda. The rail system, while much delayed, remains our only source of hope for cooperation.
The GCC cannot expect its people to believe that a union may be on the horizon when its member states cannot even bring themselves to resolve their territorial disputes. Instead of complementing each other, Gulf states have continuously tried to compete with each other in economic and military matters, two of the pillars of cooperation for the bloc. The relatively poorer Gulf states suffer from dangerous levels of unemployment while the smaller, richer states’ booming economies, despite the common labour market, continue to bring in tens of thousands of expatriates every year.
The people of the Gulf, who to this day lament their separation by the borders that emerged with the coming of nation states in the region, continue to yearn for a comprehensive union that serves not only the region’s governments but also its people. So far, successful cooperation has been limited to security measures that do little to serve the people, if at all.
The GCC should realise that its people will not believe empty slogans of a utopian union forever. It is incumbent on Gulf governments to have enough faith and trust in each other to bring about a union that is the only natural way forward for this region.