Yemen’s Membership of The GCC: Desirable but Difficult [Archives:2001/23/Law & Diplomacy]
Minister Abdullah al-Sayedi is eager for Yemen to join the GCC, which he described as “the proper and healthy environment for Yemen” denying any reservations certain GCC states may have regarding Yemen’s membership.
Dr John Peterson, Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), agrees. In this month’s lecture to the London-based Gulf Cultural Club: The Gulf Co-operation Council after 20 years: an assessment. he said, “I find it very unfortunate that Yemen is not a member. It should be in many respects. But you have six countries that are monarchies with very closely centralized political systems. They share relatively common or similar economies and social systems. Yemen upsets that apple cart in many respects. It is a far larger country in terms of population, it is far poorer, it is an oil producer but does not produce all that much oil and basically what you would have with Yemen is six donor states and one recipient state”.
According to Dr Peterson, there has to be a certain cohesion for the GCC to work at all. “I am not sure if there has been a definite statement but I think it has been fairly clearly said, even if you have to read between the lines, ‘sorry Yemen, no’.”In reply to a question about whether the GCC states have been generous to Yemen, Dr Peterson said that Saudi Arabia has been very generous – not only to the government but to anti-government forces. Kuwait which has given a lot of aid over the years and, along with other GCC states, has a very good name in Yemen because of its generosity.
But the GCC must take regional defense and internal security into account. In terms of internal security there is no common denominator as far as Yemen is concerned because its problems are with Eritrea and with Somalia.
Serious economic problems exist as the idea of common tariffs or a common currency shows.
Twenty years ago there were four Yemeni riyals to the dollar – now there are 160 and again there is no common denominator.
In his analysis of the GGC’s achievements, Dr Peterson referred to the spirit of belonging to the same community. Travel between the GCC states has been made easier and passport requirements have been lifted. Rules of standardization, weights, measures etc have been co-ordinated, rulers and governments have become more familiar with one another and have got used to consulting and working with each other. A generation of Gulf citizens has grown up within the GCC and the idea that this group of six states comprises a common identity has been forged even though it is certainly not as profound as the underlying Arab and Islamic identities.
Individuals tend to mix with their neighbors in the GCC states far more than in the past.
This could be a function of the higher standard of living and greater mobility. People are more inclined to travel in the Gulf and transact business. For shopping and entertainment certain destinations in the Gulf have been added to Cairo, Beirut and London which had a monopoly in the past.
Ties between social and public entities such as professional organizations, universities and athletic teams have become the norm and most of the border disputes between the member states of the GCC have been settled.
On the negative side idealistic hopes of unity and integration and expectations that the GCC could be the first step towards pan-Arab co-operation have been dashed and replaced by disillusionment and a high degree of apathy. The constant mirage of unfilled rhetoric from the summits and from ministers meetings has led to a feeling of disappointment. The unity of outlook amongst the rulers, the senior members of ruling families and senior bureaucrats has solidified and become more rigid making substantive change less likely and responsiveness to the needs and demands of citizens less forthcoming.
There is general dissatisfaction that the system of rulers and ruling families has not changed.
There is no greater political participation now than there was 20 years ago. There are few real moves towards democratization and every small advance is portrayed as a gift from the ruler rather than a right of the people.
The standardization of weights and measures is all too often Saudi-based and Saudi imposed, creating a lot of disappointment and upset which is often seen as the domineering role of the Saudi government and Saudis in general. The military establishments have still not learned to work together and economic integration remains a mirage.
The increased measure of familiarity between the rulers may not have bred contempt, but it certainly has not produced bon homie. There is also the added complication of the generation gap.
Relations between the Qatari Emir Hamid and other Gulf rulers are often on a knife edge, partly because he sees himself as a new generation bound by new rules, waiting for the others to go.
Dr Peterson, a Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London) specializes in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf. Until 1999 he served as the historian of the sultan’s armed forces in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for security and defense in Oman. He has written and edited books on Oman, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Middle Eastern oil, Gulf security, political participation in the Gulf States and the armed forces of Oman, as well as published more than three dozen scholarly articles on the region. He is presently working on a paper on Saudi Arabia and Gulf security and writing three books on the Arabian Peninsula.