A failed Yemen is bad for GCC [Archives:2007/1094/Reportage]

October 15 2007

Walid Al Saqaf
Amidst the growing recent problems in Yemen, some believe that it's best for GCC countries to ignore what's going on with their neighbour. As for Yemen's ambitions to join the GCC, some think they are mere hallucinations and unrealistic ambitions.

Indeed, I'm not exaggerating when I say that a majority of Gulf citizens believe it is not possible for Yemen to join the GCC, nor is it helpful for the GCC if Yemen is allowed entry to the “rich club” of the region.

But in the midst of this cynicism, there have been steps to admit Yemen to the council of ministers of education, health and social affairs and to the Gulf Football Cup.

Recently, it was reported that Yemen's deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Dr Abdulkarim Al Arhabi announced the establishment of “a common committee represented by Yemen and the General Secretariat of the GCC to discuss integration issues”.

Beyond that, however, there is not much going on.

Let's analyse the arguments of some sceptics of Yemen's integration into the GCC. Apart from the ridiculous argument by a small minority that Yemen cannot be a GCC member because it does not have a coastline on the Gulf, many of those sceptics give other more subtle reasons in claiming that it is near impossible for Yemen to be part of the GCC.

Among the most common reasons given is the enormous economic gap between Yemen and the GCC.

Indeed, Yemen's living standards today cannot be compared to those of the GCC. In fact Yemen is more analogous to some African countries in this regard.

Ranked 150 out of 177 on the 2006 UNDP Human Development Index, Yemen has a per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $1,000 (Dh3,670) compared to GCC's average of $26,000 (2007 est.).

The economic trends also reflect a widening gap as Yemen's GDP annual growth average of 2.6 per cent is far below GCC's average of 5.9 per cent.

Security challenge

Yemen's problems are not confined to the economy however. Literacy and life expectancy, for instance, are among the lowest in the world, supporting the argument that its integration into the GCC is extremely difficult.

Perhaps one of the most worrisome problems is the high number of arms and the tribal nature of a significant portion of the population, which makes establishing security a major challenge.

Coming to the focal point of my argument and contrary to what some would believe, all the above mentioned numbers, which are usually used by sceptics, should in fact be the main reason why it will be vital for the GCC to have Yemen join in and not be left to face its potentially devastating fate all alone.

Thinking about it rationally, one can see that allowing a country to collapse on the GCC's doorstep is the recipe for disaster for all. We're talking about more than 20 million people having no where to go but to the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean or the GCC.

There are in fact reports already coming out this week that hundreds of Yemeni tribesmen from the improvised Al Jowf province have plans to move in large numbers towards Saudi border seeking shelter and help after reaching biting levels of poverty and hopelessness.

The trends that we are seeing right now point to one conclusion: if Yemen continues to remain on the same path, it will become a failed state and possibly disintegrate into smaller states, which would definitely have a grave impact on all surrounding GCC countries.

This is not a hypothetical assessment, but rather a concrete conclusion based on statistics and real studies and observations.

What GCC countries must understand is that Yemen's problems will come to haunt them and the plans that they are engaged in now in terms of building their countries' economies regardless of what is happening on the other side of the fence are a reflection of an unsound strategy.

Assuming that GCC countries have acknowledged the potential disasters that could hit them hard if Yemen becomes a failed state, integrating Yemen into the GCC will come naturally.

It is important to understand that the aim is not to make Yemen a Gulf country per se, but rather to improve its living standards and avert a potential economic and humanitarian disaster.

The widening gap between Yemen and the GCC should be the first motive for the GCC to act in helping Yemen integrate because if the situation remains as it is, Yemen may well find itself cornered and become a danger to the whole region in terms of instability and extreme poverty.

It could also become a long-term burden on all. What better way to encourage Yemen to apply urgently needed reforms than to give it hope of becoming the seventh GCC member?

Though it may look like a far-fetched comparison, the issue of Turkey's accession to the European Union can be a source of inspiration.

The Turkish government had reiterated time and again that the ultimate goal of all the reforms it has been implementing is not only to join the EU but, more importantly, to raise the overall economic and living standards to match those of the EU.

Looking at how far Turkey has gone today, one can see that the EU made a strategically sensible decision in signalling the country's right to be admitted if certain goals are met.

Millions of Yemenis have lived and worked peacefully in several GCC countries, where they are seen as hard working and loyal.

Most of those Yemenis have also experienced a better life than what they had in their home country and hence would certainly approve reforms that would make Yemen approach the level of GCC living standards.

When integrated, Yemen could do more good to the GCC than one could predict. But if ignored and if things go terribly wrong there, Yemen may well do more damage than anyone could ever imagine.

It's simply a matter that cannot be ignored – not any more.

Walid Al Saqaf is an information communications technology and media consultant. This report was published in Gulf News.