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The Constant and the Changing 2015: The Gulf and the Other

[The following is the 2015 executive summary of the Gulf Centre for Development Policies' third annual report The Constant and the Changing.]

In the third annual volume of The Constant and the Changing publication series, the Gulf Centre for Development Policies renews its call for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states to address the chronic disorders that ail their development trajectory. The objective of this series of publications is to contribute to finding a path toward building independent states based on sustainable development, a democratic political culture, and the integration between Gulf Countries. 

The four key disorders may be summarized as follows: the political disorder, as the GCC leaders continue to largely exclude their populations from decision making; the economic disorder, as represented by the GCC’s chronic and increasing dependence on oil as both a main source of state revenue and a prime mover of the economy; the security disorder, given the GCC’s chronic and near-absolute dependence on western superpowers for military protection; and the demographic disorder, as non-citizens continue to form a disproportionately large part of the GCC labor markets, as well as their overall population.

As was the case with its predecessors, this publication is the product of collective efforts of a group of researchers from the GCC states. The Constant and the Changing has a twofold mission: to annually trace the developments in each of the GCC states and to tackle differents aspects of each of the above disorders in extensive, in-depth papers.

The current volume of The Constant and Changing is themed on the GCC’s relations with “the other”which we broadly take to include the political and socioeconomic players that, while not having been historically or institutionally considered to to be a constitutent part of the GCC or their societies, nevertheless play an essential role in shaping their makeup and actions.

Domestically, the publication focuses on Saudi Arabia’s campaign of correcting the legal status of undocumented migrant workers, which has resulted in the expulsion of many hundreds of thousands who have failed to meet a certain minimum standard stipulated by the Saudi government.

The publication also analyzes GCC relations with regional state and non-state actors. As the GCC-led “Operation Decisive Storm” makes the question of Yemen an especially pertinent one, this volume has studied the modern history of GCC-Yemeni relations and the shifting alliances and antagonisms in its fold. Two articles address the GCC-Palestine relations: the first explores normalization between the GCC countries and Israel, as well as efforts towards Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in the Gulf, while the second article explores the historical relations between Hamas and Saudi Arabia.

The developments over the past two years indicate that the disorders highlighted above are being increasingly entrenched. Indeed, far from addressing these structural challenges, the GCC states have, at least since the advent of the Arab uprisings in 2011, resorted to a policy of “securitization,” under which challenges are often seen as security risks and are dealt with accordingly. Meanwhile, security, despite the GCC’s high spending on military hardware, continues to be ultimately guaranteed by the global superpower: the United States. Demographically speaking, the case of the GCC states remains a globally unique one, as nearly half of their populations are now made up of transient and precarious migrant workers.

The Political Disorder

The political developments of 2014-2015 reflect that rather than addressing this longstanding disorder through political soluitons, the GCC is instead heading toward entrenching it, as the policy of securitization has become a mainstay of GCC’s strategy toward perceived threats domestically and regionally. This approach features prominently in the political scenes of Bahrain, Oman, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and, increasingly, Kuwait.

The GCC states are also characterized by deep political divisions, especially in the two countries where political expression and organization is legally sanctioned. The parliaments of both Bahrain and Kuwait are now without an opposition, as opposition forces have decided to boycott the parliamentary elections in both countries due to the unwillingness, they claim, of their respective authorizes to engage with their demands. The GCC policy of securitization has been further complicated and reinforced by the mutual animosity with Iran on the one hand and the collapsing political-social order in neighboring Arab states on the other.

The Security Disorder

As noted above, the security disorder is based on the GCC’s reliance on foreign superpowers as ultimate guarantors of sovereignty and security. No change has occurred in the GCC states in this regard, as 50,000 western military personnel remain stationed in GCC territories. Paradoxically, the GCC also outspends most of the world’s countries on purchasing military hardware for their armies.

Following the publication’s theme of studying relations with “the other,” the security section analyzes the GCC states’ historical relations with Yemen. The article aims to demystify Yemen and its many political actors over the past few decades—a necessary task in light of the GCC’s military involvement in the neighboring Arab state. What emerges are a series of changes in reversals in the policies of different GCC countries over the past decades, with many frequently changing alliances and animosities with the same set of actors within the Yemeni political scene, as witnessed in the fluctuating relationship between the GCC countries and ex-president Ali Abdallah Saleh, as well as Southern Yemen.

The security section also focuses on the key issue of the Arab worldPalestinein two in-depth studies. Using firsthand accounts by various Hamas officials, the author of the first paper traces the development of the relationship between Hamas and Saudi Arabia. This relationship has proven to be a complicated one, given the conflicting priorities and strategies of both parties. Despite this, however, the two parties have preserved their ties, even as they reached their historically low point when Hamas received aid from Saudi Arabia’s chief regional rival: Iran.

The second article in this section on Palestine traces the steps taken by the GCC states to normalize relations with Israel. There seems to be a trend toward normalization by all GCC states except Kuwait. The study then outlines a clear strategy to not only counter attempts toward normalization with Israel, but to prescribe a proactive approach to undermine Israeli occupation based on Palestinian civil society organizations’ call to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) companies that are involved in profiting from said occupation. To this end, the article documents the activities of various multinational companies that profit from Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and are also engaged in large-scale commercial activities in the GCC states.

The Economic Disorder

Whereas some economic analysts have concluded that the third oil boom has come to an end, as the commodity has lost around fifty percent of its value toward the end of 2014, oil rent remains a primary source of income for all GCC states. This indicates the GCC states’ failure to learn from its past experiencesi.e., with the first and second oil booms, both of which were followed by a period of oil bust. During the third oil boom during the past decade, the policies of the GCC states also repeated the same pattern of rising expenditure that have accompanied the first two oil booms. As a result, the annual budget of some GCC states now need oil to be priced at higher than $100 per barrel in order to break even.

The economic section of this publication tests the sustainability of the current economic structuresi.e., that which overwhelmingly depends on oil rent and high public spending. If we assume the patterns of growth in the GCC in the past three decades to continue into the medium term, then the GCC economic systems are unsustainable. Indeed, public expenditure, much of which is spent on salaries for nationals who occupy government jobs, is not only difficult to cut, but would double within two decades if the current trends continuea prospect that would require oil to be priced at more than $200 a barrel, which seems unrealistic. Furthermore, if the current growth rates of domestic consumption of energy continue, which are supported by generous fuel subsidies, this would severely undermine the GCC’s capacity to export oil.

The Demographic Disorder

The demography of the GCC states continues to be unique, as migrants make up nearly half of the population. The combined population of the GCC states stood at fifty-one million in 2014, fifty-two percent of which are nationals. Migrants further occupy the sixty-nine percent of jobs in the GCC. If the current trend rates of migration continue,  the GCC population would reach one hundred million by 2030, sixty percent of which will be migrants.

This section of the publication has focused on Saudi Arabia’s campaign to "normalize" the legal status of Saudi-based migrant workers, which has resulted in the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of migrants. This campaign represents the first attempt by any GCC state in the third millennium to tackle the demographic disorder, and as such, it signifies the Saudi policymakers’ response to the gravity of the structural challenge at hand. However, the campaign has failed to meet its stated objective of providing employment for Saudi youth. Yemeni and Ethiopian migrant workers were disproportionately affected by this campaign, alongside various labor-intensive sections of the Saudi economy. It was also coupled with a media campaign that often vilified undocumented workers as the source of security and economic woes in the kingdom.

To view the full publication, click here.

 

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