Last week, two international seminars took place in Kuwait: The first was on the European Union’s future relationship with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states; the second was on the impact of new Islamist governments on the future of their respective economies. While both seminars were interesting and had different objectives at the outset, they asked the same question: Why are the GCC states, while being the treasury of the dramatic changes taking place around them — from Libya to Syria down to Yemen, not influencing events to suit the GCC’s interests?
Seventy per cent of the financial donations to Yemen came from GCC capitals. Two weeks ago, at an international conference held in Kuwait to raise money for Syrian refugees, one-fourth of the promised funding came from the GCC. Billions of dollars are pouring into the central banks of Egypt and Tunisia to alleviate people’s hardships and to help governments achieve economic stability. For what purpose is this money being spent? Unless the GCC plays a role in influencing events, this money will be wasted. Furthermore, some of it could be used to destabilise Gulf security itself.
Offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood can be used as a tool to pressure GCC governments to donate more money. At one the seminars, a participant publicly declared that they have two goals. The short-term goal is “to change the political culture” of the masses, by encouraging them to demand more power sharing. The long-term one is to take over power!
This is a frightening thought given that the statement came from a youth, who was not trained to mask his intentions with diplomatic innuendo. The idea of taking over power will not stop there as the movement in the Gulf have ties with other Brotherhood movements. Perhaps, the ongoing sedition trial in the UAE will tell us more about this sensitive and controversial issue in hand.
On the other hand, scholars at the seminar predicted the failure of Islamist governments on the economic front as they shy away from reality. If they adopt a ‘real world’ perspective, they will have to let go of the strict interpretation of traditions. So what they choose to do is to use force. They tighten their grip on government agencies, especially those dealing with security.
The GCC is facing challenges, pressured by internal and external elements. There are fundamentalist forces bent on using oil money to further their causes. These forces have the support of some politicians and sections of the media. Newspapers, TV and radio can be used to influence the minds of those who have little cultural maturity to judge the good from the bad.
For example, a member of Jordan’s newly-elected parliament said that GCC states should open their borders to Syrian refugees as they are responsible for creating chaos in the region. This voice, which was given a platform by a number of media outlets, is not alone.
What worries people like me is the lack of real coordination within the GCC to face these challenges. So far, every GCC state has its own policies, either towards what is happening in Arab Spring capitals, or a collective approach to the growing sociopolitical demands at home. The attitude seems to be that bad things happen to others, not us!
The voice from Jordan has echoed in certain quarters in Tunis, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. These voices look at Gulf states as cheques to be cashed on demand, but otherwise to be blamed for the evil in Arab Spring states. This attenuate has been helped by Gulf states not defining their long-term interests and making other parties respect and honour those interests, especially in terms of security. There are no ‘free lunches’.
Mohammed Alrumaihi is a professor of political sociology at Kuwait University.