MUSCAT, 31 December — Crown Prince Abdullah, deputy premier and commander of the National Guard, harshly criticized Gulf Arab governments yesterday, saying they had done little to achieve their long-sought aim of economic and military unity.
“We are not ashamed to say that we have not been able to achieve the objectives we sought when we set up the Gulf Cooperation Council 20 years ago,” Abdullah said at a summit of the bloc yesterday.
“We have not yet set up a unified military force that deters enemies and supports friends. We have not reached a common market, nor formulated a unified position on political crises,” Abdullah said. He is heading the Saudi delegation at the summit.
“The painful events that have affected the Arab and Muslim society the world over dictate us to take our historical responsibility and demand that we make an introspection before accusing others.”
Condemning the inactivity of Arab states, the crown prince said: “The real crisis is our standing with both hands folded in the face of crises blaming others.”
Stressing the need for fortifying the Arab and Islamic house to face the challenges, Prince Abdullah said: “We admit we all, with no exception, have wronged the Ummah when we permitted ourselves to be vitiated by suspicion and misunderstanding instead of objectivity and frankness. While we sought the help of strangers, we forgot our kin and when we opened our countries and markets to foreign goods we closed our doors against the products of Muslim and Arab countries.”
The crown prince pointed out the futility of the decisions made at numerous summits “We don’t need an emergency summit where resolutions cease to exist even before the ink in which they have been written down dries up. Our real need is for summits of observations and analyses which bring out logical and realistic decisions and which are executed over a reasonable time schedule.”
The crown prince said the traditional concept of sovereignty has been a stumbling block in the efforts for GCC integration.
He said the Muslim Ummah has suffered badly from actions of terrorists who hid under the banner of Islam which had nothing to do with their actions. He said the duty of all Muslims today is to condemn all forms of terrorist actions unequivocally.
Islam is the religion of tolerance and love and killing an innocent person is considered equal to killing all mankind, the crown prince pointed out, citing a verse of the Holy Qur’an.
Prince Abdullah concluded his speech with an appeal to adopt a moderate approach which will enable the Arab and Muslim world to interact with the challenges of the changing world.
During a brief opening session, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos welcomed the delegations and took over from Bahrain as chair of the Council before the summit moved behind closed doors.
“It is time to step up the pace, without hesitation, on the road to economic integration among GCC member countries and succeed in the next phase,” Bahrain’s Emir Hamad ibn Issa Al-Khalifa told reporters.
“The economy is the best choice we can make and the best way to consolidate links between our peoples. We have to work to achieve and strengthen solid economic integration,” he said upon arrival in Muscat.
The delegates were expected to endorse a customs union by Jan. 1, 2003, which will unify tariffs at five percent. And that is intended to open the way to monetary union and a single currency in 2010.
The GCC is set to amend a unified economic agreement signed when the bloc was founded in 1981 and which calls for integration among members of the alliance.
“The amendments are due to international economic changes,” notably the entry of all but Saudi Arabia among Gulf states into the World Trade Organization, said GCC’s secretary-general for economic affairs, Ajlan Al-Kawari. “The new agreement puts in place a clear mechanism to implement joint economic decisions... and to settle trade differences,” he told journalists.
Kawari said monetary union would take place in three steps: pegging all national currencies to the dollar within a year, drawing up a legislative framework by 2005 and the launch of a joint currency in 2010.
“Adopting one currency is a difficult operation,” GCC Secretary-General Jamil Al-Hujailan said. “This requires economic similarities in the six member countries. Some are economically strong, others weak.”
The two-day summit also has a strong political agenda. Afghanistan and tension between India and Pakistan will be discussed as well as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, relations with Iraq and Iran and the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The GCC was expected to voice backing for the fight against terrorism and consider creating a fund to aid the reconstruction of Afghanistan. A call to New Delhi and Islamabad to avoid escalation leading to war was also due to be made, delegates said.
With oil revenues expected to drop 25 percent this year, Gulf leaders will be presented with an IMF report calling for spending to be cut and taxes levied, delegates said. The International Monetary Fund has urged the bloc to introduce several types of taxes to boost revenues which are heavily dependent on oil income.
The IMF said the Gulf states cannot continue to depend on crude oil sales alone to achieve sustainable economic growth and recommended a regime including income tax, corporate tax, consumption tax and value added tax. “GCC governments should start introducing such taxes which will expand non-oil revenues. They should also work to attract more foreign capital, mainly direct investment, which plays a vital role in the domestic economy,” the IMF recommended.
In recent years, the six states have introduced fees on key heavily subsidized services to ease their financial burden and develop non-oil revenues. “GCC states should step up reforms, lower subsidies, upgrade the financial system and the stock market and allow foreigners to fully own projects,” the IMF said.
Oil revenues make up more than 80 percent of total income of the GCC states, exposing their economies directly to price shocks.
Official sources said the GCC would consider offering step-by-step membership to Yemen. A GCC official said the foreign ministers of the bloc had Saturday reviewed a formula granting Sanaa “as a first step, membership of Gulf organizations and bodies,” which do not have a political role.
“Yemen joining some bodies would be a major step,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Muhammad ibn Mubarak Al-Khalifa told reporters. “But certain obstacles block Yemen’s full membership of the GCC,” he said, listing “differences in the political and economic systems.”
However, UAE Foreign Minister Rashed ibn Abdullah said Yemen was “a natural extension” of the bloc and Abu Dhabi would back any decision approved by GCC partners on the issue.