35 years on, GCC a force to reckon with

Updated 26 May 2016

35 years on, GCC a force to reckon with

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was based on a vision of regional unity which in 1981 was dismissed by some as fanciful. Thirty-five years on, the doubters have been proven wrong. The vision that established the GCC has been vindicated. And never before have its six member states needed such a unity of purpose as they do today. Never before have the sinews of cooperation that have grown between the member states been so essential.
When the GCC came into being, the world was a very different place. The greatest threat to regional peace was Israel. The terrorist menace of Al-Qaeda and Daesh did not exist. The Soviet Union was still apparently a potent superpower rival to Washington. China’s economic ascendancy had barely begun.
At the time, unfavorable comparisons were made between the EU and the GCC. The European states were seen as strong and united. There were doubts that the GCC could in reality aspire to the EU’s level of economic and political integration. Later there were snide comments about the pace at which the GCC was evolving.
Yet today the EU is being tossed in a sea of crises. The euro single currency came close to ruin. Its future is still far from assured. Political integration has hit the rocks. Poland and Hungary have governments that are defying Brussels. The British may decide to quit the Union altogether in a month’s time. Far-right parties with anti-EU agendas are on the rise in France, Germany, Austria, Holland, Finland and Sweden. EU leaders have tried and failed to find a coherent and humane response to the tragic tide of migrants.
The weaknesses being exposed in the EU stem from way in which it has developed. Revolutionary changes have been dictated by leaders blinded by a unionist vision. The contrast with the GCC could not be greater. Here in the Gulf we have seen a process of evolution. There has been no imposition of change. What has been achieved has been what was possible at that moment. The driving wisdom that all members share is that little steps are better than great leaps forward. With little steps, the feet are always grounded in reality. With big leaps contact with reality is repeatedly lost.
Thus Europe’s vaunting vision has left it poorly prepared for its present challenges. The opposite has occurred with the GCC. Every challenge is making it stronger. Member states are confronted by unprecedented Iranian aggression. Tehran is actively involved in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. It has sought to sow mayhem and discord in Bahrain and the Kingdom. It continues to occupy Abu Musa and the Tunb islands belonging to the UAE. It has regularly threatened to try and close the Strait of Hormuz to the tanker traffic of GCC states.
All of these confrontational moves are deplorable. Yet the international community has been dangerously passive. It could even be argued that it has been complicit. Barack Obama has removed sanctions in return for Iran’s feeble promises about its nuclear weapons program. This has re-empowered Tehran both financially and politically. The GCC therefore finds itself in the frontline against Iranian revanchism. It has been the GCC states led by Saudi Arabia that have checked the Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebellion in Yemen. And it is the GCC rather than the Arab League which is marshaling the Arab world against the clear and present danger posed by Iran.
The Kingdom, along with its fellow GCC members, would rather live in peace and amity with their neighbor across the Gulf. But in one respect Iran’s combative policy is to be welcomed. It has pumped fresh blood into the sinews of GCC unity. There are political, military, security, economic and social levels on which member states are drawing closer. One example is a GCC police force. Long mooted, it began to take definite shape last year. But this sinew will grow alongside another. Thanks to Iranian meddling, the sinews of security cooperation have already become very much stronger.
Operation Decisive Storm has restored the Yemen government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. But it has also advanced the level of operational cohesion between GCC armed forces. They are equipped with the world’s most advanced battle systems. But effective command and control is an absolute essential. Combatting Iran’s Yemen intervention has allowed GCC commanders to hone their skills. The GCC is thus much stronger militarily.
There is of course no room for complacency. The threat posed by Iran remains substantial. But 35 years after its founding, the GCC has evolved steadily into an organization that is capable of checking Tehran’s dangerous ambitions.

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

Saudi drivers take a flooded street in Jeddah on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017

EDITORIAL: Jeddah floods a reminder of why we need the anti-corruption drive

It has happened again. The roads, streets and many underpasses in Jeddah were flooded with rainwater on Tuesday. Many areas were turned into lakes because of the heavy, though forecast, downpour. In some areas, water was knee-deep while in others it was chest-deep. People were stuck in their vehicles and many were seen pushing their vehicles to the side of the roads with great difficulty. In low-lying areas, citizens struggled to remove their belongings from flooded houses.

For the residents of Jeddah, rain has, more often than not, brought trouble and devastation. Whenever the skies open up, thoughts go back to that “Black Wednesday” of November 25, 2009, when more than 100 people lost their lives and property worth billions of riyals was destroyed. An investigation was opened into the disaster and some of the guilty were taken to court and tried; some of the small fry were even jailed. As has been the case in the past, the mighty arm of the law could barely touch those at the top who enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

And so it was business as usual until the rain began to wreak havoc again, reminding us that the laws of nature take their course and that hiding your head in the sand does not chase the clouds away.

Having said that, it must be admitted that, yes, lessons were learned. A disaster management team was set up. The weather forecast department became active in issuing alerts. In fact, Tuesday could have been far worse had it not been for the timely alert from the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) and a prompt decision by the Ministry of Education to suspend classes, schools and universities in and around Jeddah. That helped in keeping people and vehicles off the streets. At noon on Tuesday, it looked as if the city were under some kind of curfew.

The questions that are on everyone's minds right now are: Why is it that rain renders the city helpless and immobile at this time every year? Why have efforts to create effective rainwater drainage systems not borne fruit despite pumping billions of riyals into new projects such as dams and canals? Why is it that the authorities are found wanting whenever heavy rain occurs? More importantly, what is the solution?

Here is the answer. These floods are a stark reminder of why the current drive against corruption is so essential. It is required in order to instill the fear of law into high-ranking officials and heads of construction companies and civic bodies who have failed in their responsibilities. Those who have cut corners and have pocketed public money, those who have not delivered on the projects and who have provided substandard services must pay for their sins of omission.

This is exactly what is happening. No one is above the law. The guilty, whoever they are, however high up they are, will have to pay — and they are. In this new era of transparency and accountability — initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — word has gone down from top to bottom that no one is immune. If you are guilty you will be punished. Those responsible for the havoc of the floods on Tuesday will have no rest either.