(MENAFN - Arab News) It is a good proposal that deserves to be backed by everybody with a positive spirit
Leaders of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council will meet in Riyadh tomorrow (Monday) to discuss the proposal made by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah on transforming the group into a Gulf Union. Many have welcomed the proposal, and at the same time many others have raised their fears and concerns. I will be against the proposal if it is associated with any of the following negative aspects.
I will join the opposition against the Gulf Union if it forces Kuwait, which is the only GCC country that enjoys free Parliamentary elections, to cancel its parliamentary system and political participation concept just to please Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman. Undoubtedly, I will be in the opposition if the proposal enforces Bahrain or Dubai to implement Kuwaiti and Saudi systems that restrict social freedom and close down its cinemas and stop its free tourism and hotel services.
I will definitely remain in the opposition if the proposal means Saudi Arabia imposing its ban on women driving on other member countries. I will go against the idea, if it applies a particular conservative or religious education system, preventing coeducation or imposing niqab or hijab on girls. I will go against the proposal if it treats the comparatively free Saudi press equal to the restrictive Qatari press. I will not approve the union if it restricts the free Kuwaiti media to become similar to media organizations in other member states. At the same time, we don't want the spread of Kuwait's political diseases to other states. Also we don't want the Shiite-Sunni conflict in Bahrain to spread in other GCC states.
We don't want a Gulf Union that would nullify the features of any Gulf society and lead to the interference of a member country in the decisions and affairs of other countries. We don't expect the union to interfere in the internal political affairs of a member country or its sovereign decisions. I have presented my fears and concerns to those who are discussing the proposal and they told me that the union would not put any restrictions on member countries and would not force them to follow the regulations of other countries. Bahrain will preserve its social personality while Kuwait would keep its history and political achievements. Sultanate of Oman will follow its educational system and the UAE will continue to enjoy its social freedom.
If that will be the situation, then what is the need for a Gulf Union? According to GCC officials, the period of cooperation, which began 30 years ago, must end to open a new era of integration. I believe that the word "Union" would frighten some Gulf citizens as it gives the concept of federalism like the United Arab Emirates or the United States of America. They emphasize that the union would not go with this concept because of the imbalance of member states. Saudi Arabia is five times bigger than the second largest GCC state Oman. Saudi Arabia has a population of 27 million while Qatar has less than a million and this difference in size has been raising fears of member countries ever since the formation of the GCC in 1981.
The main opponents of the Gulf Union were Kuwaiti intellectuals who fear that it would lead to their big neighbor Saudi Arabia occupying their small country. But these fears evaporated when Saudi Arabia came forward to rescue Kuwait when it was occupied by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1990.
During the past 30 years, Saudi Arabia has not interfered in the affairs of its five GCC neighbors. Actually, Kuwait was a burden on Saudi Arabia as a result of Saddam's occupation and Iran's continuous threats. Gulf intellectuals used to express their fears that the GCC was a Saudi-American plan to help the Kingdom swallow its small neighbors. We saw later the US bases appearing in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. There were also fears that Saudi Arabia would impose its strict religious views on other member countries. But later we learned that Kuwait was influenced more by the Iranian revolution than Saudi religious thoughts.
I think these political and social concerns came because of the obscurity surrounding the proposal. King Abdullah had in his mind the concept of European Union when he presented the proposal during the last GCC summit. It is a concept closer to federalism but not federalism itself. The proposal had clearly stated that the new union would not interfere in the sovereignty of member countries. If we take the proposal positively, we can understand that it would not be aimed at imposing any other system or nullifying the character of a member country or sidelining any ethnic group.
However, those who raise fears about the union should have the right to state their fears and set out their conditions. Britain, for example, agreed to join the EU on certain conditions as it wanted to keep its currency and does not want to nullify its immigration rules. I am confident that the Gulf Union would be the best option for all GCC member countries. Time will prove that Gulf Union is a good proposal that deserves to be supported by everybody with a positive spirit.