The regional context in the GCC area is volatile. Economic and educational development leads to sharply increasing exposure to international norms, including those relevant for human rights such as independence of the judiciary, equal access to justice of people regardless of gender or ethnicity and the possibility to frankly discuss and agree on political options and choices for the region. Adherence to those norms will be a key determinant of the harmonic development of local societies and the economic success of countries.
It is a region of great geopolitical interest and with great tensions. A situation that bears some resemblance to the Cold War era in Europe. The birth of Bridging the Gulf was inspired by the Helsinki process arising out of the 1975 Helsinki agreement. This agreement emphasized on the one hand peaceful co-existence of states and mutual non-interference and on the other hand respect for human rights, economic and personal contacts across borders. Bridging the Gulf initiative is based on the conviction that peaceful and respectful contacts from outside the region will lessen the tensions in the Gulf societies and positively influence the relations between the countries themselves at their regional level but also at the international level. The importance of the Gulf region as a supplier of energy and as a market is enormous. The region as a whole would have an enormous potential, assuming that the conflicts with Iran as well as those in Iraq would have ended.
In contrast to the potential of the region, the security situation in the Arab-Persian Gulf involving the three main actors Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia is deteriorating noticeably and becomes increasingly complicated and complex with the increased involvement of non state actors and their impact on the political, cultural and social context.
The Gulf region is witnessing changes in its closed environment where local groups and citizens become more critical towards the tensions and changes affecting their daily lives. Civil society actors are becoming more persistent in calls for improvements in human rights, democracy, rule of law and peace and security. At the same time they are expressing more and more their need to interact with governmental actors in a constructive way enabling the needed positive social change to take place and be rooted in the culture of the region. Reform and sustainable change is not something that has to be forced or imported from outside. It is a home grown process involving all the layers, components and structures within the society and this is particularly true for the Gulf region.
It is not just the ‘human rights NGOs' but also the academic world as well as professional bodies, the media, women's organisations and similar bodies that all have their role to play in this process.
Opinion-forming among them on issues related to international human rights standards needs to be fostered, with particular attention for independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression, women's rights and freedom of religion, aiming towards gradually aligning legislation and governmental policies with international standards. Attention also will be given to advance human rights standards and education in the region but also fostering the launch and support to regional structures and human rights bodies.
At the same time, organizing civil society through a constructive approach, promoting changes in mentalities, behaviours and ultimately changes in laws requires much attention and a large support, given the still underdeveloped state of many of the region's human rights bodies and the lack of real civil society components.