Commentary

Gulf Economic Unity Is Long Overdue

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

I have been urging Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) heads of state to form an economic bloc for over a decade, and in light of increased instability the move is not only necessary but urgent. Thanks to the courageous leadership of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi monarch King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a ‘United Gulf States’ – involving a customs union, a common market and a joint currency – is now within our grasp at a moment in time when our world is on the cusp of a new era, one of flux and uncertainty.

So-called expert predictions cannot be relied upon because, although the past was once a predictor of tomorrow, that is no longer the case. As the literary visionary H.G. Wells once wrote, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is nature’s inexorable imperative” and adapt we must before we are forced unprepared to do so in reaction to negative outside influences.

The days when we were blown around like straws in the wind by decisions taken in Washington DC or London are no more viable. The Kingdom’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was correct in his assertion that we are in an era “marred by economic instability” requiring us “to work together to achieve development and prosperity”.

The United States of America has been shell-shocked by the unexpected outcome of its presidential election and the prospect of an as yet unknown future in which nothing can be taken for granted, especially since President-elect Donald Trump’s policies remain in the realm of media guessing games. At stake is America’s traditional leadership role.

Hopefully, a Trump White House will surpass all expectations. He is a proven winner in business and his battle for the top job paid off. Nevertheless, a single GCC currency unhinged from the dollar and diversification away from oil revenues are sensible insurance policies.

EU leaderships brace themselves for a potential Brexit contagion faced with increasing nationalist sentiments fuelling the rise of populist candidates drawn from far right parties. If the European experiment crumbles, the ripples will create a worldwide economic tsunami during which only the economically strong and independent will pull through intact.

Unfortunately, major areas within the Arab World are suffocated by internal conflicts, terrorism and widespread poverty or, in the case of Lebanon and Iraq, are being ground down by an Iranian boot. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies have evolved to make up the region’s lone stable, secure and prosperous foundation that must be strengthened and defended at all cost, else the ‘Arab World’ will be nothing more than a footnote in history.

And so I was gratified by the Saudi proposal recently announced by Prince Mohammed bin Salman to establish a Gulf economic union to give member countries protection from the kind of shocks that have rocked our region – the 2007/8 global downturn and the rapid descent of oil prices – as well as to advance our global competitiveness.

Moreover, as the representative of the world’s 6th largest economy, the GCC would exponentially benefit from increased diplomatic clout and expanded leverage during negotiations with other countries on such issues as conflict resolution, sorely needed to reestablish peace in both Syria and Yemen and to deter Western states from prostrating themselves before Tehran to win arms and trade deals.

In all honesty, what are we waiting for? Economic unity is just as much of a no-brainer as the recently held ‘Arabian Gulf Security One’ drills on the heels of ‘Gulf Shield 1’ and “Gulf Bridge 17’ aimed at bolstering the GCC’s defence and anti-terrorism capabilities. National security is the prime pillar on which economic health rests, encouraging both domestic and foreign investment.

There is no good reason preventing the above initiatives from being put into action. GCC States experience similar economic challenges; they share the same enemies and are targeted by the same threats. We are bonded by ties of blood, faith, traditions and culture. That said, different governments hold differing perspectives and tend more towards going it alone.

Some member states are more cautious than others to effect groundbreaking change and to those I would say, go forward with confidence. Be transparent. Do not allow disagreements over minor issues to cloud the big picture. Placing trust in your brothers does not require a leap of faith. We are all in the same boat.

Please do not let the idea of an economic bloc vaporize like so many others discussed in the past. Securing the future for coming generations must be our priority and once we choose to navigate that boat together in the same direction, we will be a force to be reckoned with. This is our time. May God give us the wisdom and courage to prevail!