Yemen Joining the GCC – Seminar [Archives:2003/53/Reportage]

December 24 2003

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The Yemen Strategic Studies Center in corporation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung last Monday organized a seminar discussing the economic, political, cultural and security dimensions of Yemen accession of the GCC. The seminar was attended by a large number of politicians, intellectuals, and journalists.
The opening address was delivered by Dr Mohammad Al-Afandi president of the Yemen Strategic Studies Center.
The first session of the seminar was chaired by Mr Mohammad Shahir Hassan and the second by Mr Abdulsalam Al-Ansi. Five working papers were presented and discussed in the seminar, but discussions were not given sufficient time to cover all the seminar’s aspects and it was concluded without any recommendations that would have benefited officials and specialized persons. Lack of time and no resulting recommendation were two drawbacks taken against the seminar also that it was not attended by any representatives of GCC except for Mr Hani Kashif from KSA embassy.
Other than these three factors, the working papers were quite interesting and the seminar sessions were enriched with comments and constructive arguments that could have had a positive consequences on the concerned authorities had they been followed up with suggestions and recommendations.
Political dimension:
Dr Jalal Ibraheem Faqeerah discussed the political dimension of Yemen joining of the GCC. In his paper he started by reviewing the initial attempts and initiatives that were exploring ways to ensure security in the gulf. Then he went through the international and regional circumstances in which the council was established on the 26th of May 1981 in Abu Dhabi. Following that he discussed the Yemeni attitude towards the GCC and the gradual changes that took place in the political stand of the country.
After had also briefly reviewed the reasons of proximity and exclusion that Yemen received through the ’95, ’96, and 2000 GCC summits until 2001 in Muscat summit when a quality transition in Yemen relations with the council was witnessed although it remained below expectations. That summit approved Yemen participation in some of the sport activities and technical committees related to health, society and education. Observers considered this step as a partial acceptance of Yemen accession although there is no such concept as partial membership in the GCC. Mr Faqeera touched on reasons for opposing Yemen’s joining such as difference in political system and the question of proving goodwill. He indicated that this opposing is a consequence of the gulf crisis, and that Yemen and the GCC will achieve many benefits from Yemen joining the GCC. Meanwhile, he also considered the burdens and responsibilities which will face the decision of joining.
Economic dimension:
The second working paper was regarding the expected economic relations and their future horizons, by Dr Taha Al-Fusaiel. In particular, he talked about the term “From Neighbors to Partners” that has been a highlight in most media and talk groups lately, and he explained what the economic and political sense of partnership is. He referred to aspects and fields of trade relations such as consolidation of trade exchange, regulation of employing Yemeni labour, building joint investment projects in addition to development of human resources and supporting Yemen’s stand at international bodies. However, Dr Al-Fusaiel at the end of his paper, explained a number of factors affecting course of trade exchange, such as the existence of some ruling powers in the gulf that are not in favor of economic proximity, as well as the absence of a clear and united vision towards Yemen. In addition to the internal divisions, especially after the 11th September event, this turned the GCC’s attention towards international relations rather than regional relations. Moreover, he emphasized the huge responsibility falling on the Yemeni government which has to take immediate effective measures in the economic reform on its own to start with.
Cultural and Social Dimensions:
Mr. Naser Yehya, in his paper tackling the cultural and social dimensions, sees that there are many positive cultural facets encourage Yemen’s joining. These are derived from common history and common interests as well as unity of religion and language. However, he commented on the negative western influences that exist in our life today, mainly because of their density and strength in comparison with our weakness. He sees that the differences in details exist in the same country also, and do not mean that they should pose obstacles to Yemen’s joining of the GCC. Of the negative aspects of Yemen’s culture in the eyes of the GCC, Dr. Yehya said that they are mainly of political nature especially the democratic attempts and the political parties’ enumeration in Yemen, and this has cultural consequences that make the Yemeni society in structure as different from the gulf.
The second negative aspect which is taken against Yemen is the social instability and the weak authority of the state against tribal powers and spread of weapon carrying. On the other side in the gulf, the society structure is actually nothing other than tribal.
When in the same time, the gulf itself goes through worse social instabilities witnessed through the foreign influence on the countries and the fact that the natives of the gulf are a minority in their own countries, let alone the spread of selling alcoholic drinks and perhaps drugs secretly in compared to Qat chewing in Yemen. Concluding his paper, Dr. Yehya sees that the solution to confronting such differences is to have a more open state of mind towards the joining, and to allow democracy to exist in the dealing as acquired state of working and governing in today’s life, instead of yielding to external pressures.
Security Dimension:
The security dimension was discussed by Mr Mohammed Al-Sabri, who talked about the gulf security during the recent period and concentrated on the eighties, which presented a danger at that time with the collapse of Iran Shah’s regime, arising of internal conflicts threatening the regional stability and Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan, then the Iraq-Iran war. And all these caused a theoretical separation between gulf’s security and the Islamic world’s security.
Then the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place, creating a new phase in the gulf security, and causing split between Arab security and the gulf security. And from that time onwards the gulf has gone under what was termed as the “American Peace Umbrella” after the end of the cold war and the collapse of the former Soviet Union. And for the first time in history, a country’s military forces were marketed to another country like any commercial product, where the American soldiers were – so- called -dedicated to protecting the gulf. From this fact, a formula arises: high income + high defence expenses with natives being a minority = a weak defence force.
He talked about the massive ratio of Asian man power in the gulf which is a security threat in its own, and then he commented on the 11th September events and the security consequences of that on the gulf.
He also said that the current preparation for war against Iraq along with what was termed as war against terrorism could be an almost full destruction of the international relationship bases. This being clear evidence that these countries lost the ability to take real decisions regarding their own security and fate. Mr. Al-Sabri warned that collapse of Iraq will result in critical security shortcomings in the region, and that if security was actually wanted, that would not be achieved through air or marine but through strengthening of the regional defence in KSA and Yemen.
Pre-Joining Application Period:
Dr. Mohammed Ali Al-Saqqaf, talked about the time before Yemen applied to join officially. And he divided that time into two sections: divided Yemen and the GCC, and united Yemen and the GCC.
He started his paper by reading a statement of Abdullah Bashara, former secretary general of the GCC he gave in a press conference in Doha, 1983: “Gulf’s stability and Yemen’s stability can not be separated. And Yemen north and south is a natural extension to the gulf, and they are one people. And no matter what a political view there may be, at the end it is the brotherhood and mutual welfare and interest attitude will dominate.”
In his paper Dr. Al-Saqqaf analyzed the Yemeni-gulf relations before unity. Because the south had an ideological Marxist policy and the north had problems in its relations with its neighbors, especially that at that time the prime minister said in a statement that the GCC was a “Rich peoples’ club”.
However, after Yemen’s unity, any political observer would feel shocked with the revenge policy which had been going on between decision makers of both sides. This is because they are the same ruling parties for the last 25 years. As an example he talked about Yemen’s joining the Arab Corporation Council in 1989, and the gulf translation of Yemen’s stand in the gulf crises in 1994, in turn the gulf’s support (except Qatar) to division during the crises in Yemen. And the cold attitude when Eritrea took over Hunaish Island in 1995. He concluded his paper with a question: does the fact that the ruling parties are still the same since years become a limited explanation to the way the Yemen-gulf relations have been, or does it have to do with individuals in particular?
** Dr. Hassan Thabit Farhan:
Political reasons in the first place and nothing else. The Yemeni political system is no threat to the gulf, and the Yemeni man power’s money circulates in the gulf and not like other man powers.
** Ahmed Al-Sufi:
The council has exhausted the purposes it was created for, and does not have a real future in the light of the current changes. And Yemen doesn’t have a clear political system of a defined personality. We are not qualified to join, we don’t mind the political system to last even for 50 years, but we want to see improvement.
** Munda’i Diyan:
We always focus on other people’s mistakes and forget ours. All the seminars that I have attended were just futile; there should have been scientific and specialized discussions. There isn’t any Yemeni policy towards the GCC, we always run on luck.
** Mohammed Qahtan:
Gathering flowers for the GCC funeral is taking high risks on what is not actually known. Every phase has its own characteristics and we need an internal revision. For us, the case has been a mood change in our relationship with each other, but this should not be the case in the external affairs.
** Dr. Mohammed Al-Sharafi:
The globalization climate removed barriers, and the world has become a small village. I don’t predict that the GCC will fall; in fact I think it will grow.
** Abdulghani Abdulqadir:
We must release captivated economics. And we must start thinking about the post- oil period. We have to reform the relationships and find new phrases and lines of thoughts.
** Nabil Al-Sufi:
The most important question is: what is the real reaction of public to this issue?
** Hani Kashif (KSA Embassy):
KSA does not grant aid to absorb anyone’s anger. Our religious and national duty motivates our assistance.
** Abdulaziz Al-Kumaim:
The council is a first step towards an Arab Unity.
** Taha Al-Fusaiel:
The GCC must have an office that contains a complete database so that we can acquire information from.
** Dr. Mohammed Ali Al-Saqqaf:
Flattering and compliments do not reflect the truth. And I doubt there would be a breakthrough as long as the ruling parties are the same for the last 25 years especially that they all know each other very well.
** Dr. Jalal Faqeerah:
Dealing with the situation through cost benefit analysis is wrong.
** Naser Al-Taweel:
This was supposed to happen in 1981 and not today. And an important question is that there wasn’t even a single gulf citizen in the conference, so whom are we talking to then?! Yemen proceeded from the misconception that it had the right to join. Geographical unity is not a base for that. And unless the country re-evaluates its policy and system, rejection will continue. And the shortage in manpower in the gulf in face with the excess in man power in Yemen will play a vital role in Yemen’s joining. Armament in the first place is to protect the ruling regimes and families in power and so I don’t see any need for it to be.