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21-12-2011 - Al Hayat/Jameel Theyabi

The Riyadh Summit and the Arab Spring

I hope that no Gulf official will come out on the sidelines of the summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council states being held in the Saudi capital Riyadh today, and say that the summit is being staged in highly important and exceptional circumstances or in a historical moment due to the situation in the region. Indeed, ever since the Gulf citizens were introduced to these summits, they have been hearing this one-tune sentence on a yearly basis and in all the Gulf summits. Every year, the officials do not hesitate to describe their summits as being exceptional and historical, while forgetting that the Gulf citizens know that such summits are sealed in advance and held on dates that are agreed on upon the end of the previous one.


The Gulf citizens have become sick and tired of this broken record, and want to hear decisions rising up to the level of the GCC states' history, geography and the relations of their people, in order to uphold the acquisitions and political, economic and strategic status of these countries whose lands are filled with oil and gas.

Although more than three decades have gone by since the council's establishment, the Gulf citizens never earned the right to full popular participation in their countries. This is true, although they have acquired a certain level of political awareness and know the size of the challenges and threats surrounding their countries, whether by those who have aspirations, those who are spiteful, or those seeking their interests.


The Gulf citizens do not want their presence to remain marginal under the pretext of the increase of the challenges. These challenges should even contribute to the adoption of official decisions encouraging the Gulf citizens to actually participate - alongside their government - in the overcoming of the challenges, based on clear democratic mechanisms that would immunize the domestic arena, allow the granting of undivided rights, and contain the foreign outbidding.

The GCC summit, which is sealed in advance, is being held 10 days before the end of the exceptional Arab year of 2011. This is the year that witnessed - since its first days - peaceful and unprecedented Arab popular revolutions demanding freedom, dignity, justice and democracy.


The Gulf summit is being held at the end of the year that witnessed the fall of presidents of Arab republics and the division of Sudan into North and South due to the policies of Omar al-Bashir's regime.


The GCC states played a major role in activating the Libyan revolution on the international level and supporting the Egyptian treasury after the fall of Mubarak's regime, and deployed palpable efforts at the level of the Yemeni issue until Ali Saleh stepped down based on a Gulf initiative.


Moreover, the Gulf states were the first to condemn the Syrian regime for using excessive power against the demonstrators and supported the international efforts at the level of numerous heated files.


The leaders of the GCC states are aware that their countries are facing real challenges. However, they will be unable to overcome them unless it is through the accomplishment of domestic achievements, starting by granting the people their rights and meeting their aspirations. This is due to the fact that the postponement of the urgent internal files would be like planting bombs that could explode at any moment.


What is certain is that during the Gulf summit, the meetings will tackle the Arab Spring file, the relations with the neighbor Iran, the tragic situation in Syria, the regional security issues, the outcome of the negotiations over Jordan's and Morocco's accession and the possible invitation to Egypt to join the GCC. This marks the retreat of the so-called file of the war on terrorism, one that remained a priority for the Council throughout the past years and ever since September 11, 2001.


Prior to the summit, meetings that could be dubbed as important were held, the first of which being the security-intelligence meeting held in Riyadh between Saudi Heir to the Throne Prince Nayef Bin Abdul-Aziz and Iranian Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi. The second was the withdrawal of the American troops from the neighboring Iraq, nine years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime. As for the third, it surrounded the security file and the mutual accusations and media mudslinging between Iran and the GCC states, especially in regard to the Bahraini issue.


What is certain is that the presence of the major political files does not mean that the summit will disregard the economic and social files, in addition to the discussion of the positions and the relations of the Gulf capitals with each other, especially in light of files that are deferred - or intentionally postponed - year after year.


Complementarity among the GCC states is still slow at the level of some Gulf issues, due to bureaucracy and the non-clarity of some officials. However, this does not mean there are no accomplishments worth mentioning, namely the presence of the Peninsula Shield Force, the unified customs fees, the signing of agreements allowing the citizens of the Gulf states to access the GCC states with their ID cards, the unified economic agreement and the efforts to activate unified citizenship.


I thus believe that the politicians and decision-makers should not promote the historical and exceptional description of the Arab summits, considering that what is required is to achieve complementarity at the level of the efforts by allowing popular participation and granting citizens the priority, although the challenges will not be eliminated and will keep peaking their heads as long as there is life, considering that life is a mere series of challenges.


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