The Dynamics of Security Challenges: A Gulf Perspective


Manama Dialogue 2009


Your Highnesses, Excellencies, and Distinguished Guests,
Peace be upon you and the mercy of Allah and His blessings.

Firstly, I am pleased to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation to the sisterly Kingdom of Bahrain for hosting and sponsoring the sixth Manama Dialogue, and I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. John Chipman, Director-General of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, for honoring me with delivering the opening speech at the conference.

I would like to seize this opportunity to commend the fruitful and positive efforts made by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and all those involved in ensuring the success of this important event, which has become a destination for all those interested in the security and stability of the region, providing a space for freely discussing opinions and ideas that are guided only by ethical positions aimed at achieving the security and safety aspirations of our people.

Esteemed attendees,
* Speaking about dynamics means discussing various temporal dimensions of a moving concept.
* There is a current and immediate challenge that requires inevitable and immediate action.
* There are medium and long-term challenges that require calm and precise measures and precautions.
* Hence, the concept of Gulf security is formed within its three temporal dimensions: immediate, medium-term, and long-term, taking the form of security/political, economic, and demographic challenges.

Firstly: Security and Political Challenges

If we closely examine the reality of the map of the region adjacent to this blessed island, undoubtedly, we will observe events that do not bring us joy and do not contribute to the stability of our region, starting from the war in Afghanistan and its neighboring areas in Pakistan, passing through Iran's confrontation with international legitimacy, and reaching the situation in Palestine, where the Palestinian people suffer from oppression and denial of their right to an independent state, down to the African Horn, wandering towards the crisis in Yemen and its threat to the security of the GCC states. In this regard, there is no way for us in the GCC countries except to unite efforts to contain these existing and looming risks to our national security. We have all adopted, in the GCC countries, and even before the establishment of the Council, a preventive and diplomatic diplomacy characterized by transparency and vitality that drives us to deal with tension spots in a manner inherited from time with its effectiveness and unique Gulf characteristics. This approach is characterized by the following:

(1) The integrity of intentions carried by Gulf diplomacy, which has no ambition for land or purposes that encroach upon the rights of others. Its reality is a shining transparency, and its goals are understanding, coexistence, good neighborliness, and establishing a strong relationship based on the principle of mutual interests exchange and achieving benefits for all. Gulf diplomacy is a system committed to the rules of good behavior and recognizing the rights of others. Its essence lies in solving issues through understanding and removing tensions through frank dialogue, and intensifying communication without boredom or despair.

(2) Gulf diplomacy realizes the dangers of employing ideology in international relations and believes that harnessing diplomacy to achieve regional aspirations and territorial expansions at the expense of others leads to disrupting the regional understanding system and creates doubt among neighbors, instigating fear and apprehension of blackmail. If expansionist diplomacy is destructive, then inciting diplomacy among neighboring peoples is no less destructive, especially when it is associated with calling for rebellion against their systems and challenging their governments or overthrowing their reality. GCC countries have continued their dialogues with neighbors and others to avoid regional diplomatic exacerbation free from the causes of tension and ideological detriments, and to reach common formulations consistent with international law, the principles of the UN Charter, and the norms of behavior among nations.

(3) Gulf diplomacy acknowledges the depth of the strategic position occupied by the GCC countries in the international relations system, which has been strengthened by consolidating the connection between GCC countries and the global family, built on a conscious understanding of the region's role in global economic construction and development prosperity in various societies. From this perspective, the responsibility of GCC countries in ensuring the region's stability, protecting its waterways, and adopting a constructive and responsible behavior in oil policies, especially in the equation between production and prices, considering the right of the producer and the needs of the consumer, has increased.

The most important thing we seek in our behavior within the framework of oil diplomacy is to strengthen the world's confidence in our credibility and our commitment to fulfilling our duty towards the international community's energy needs.

Undoubtedly, the Gulf diplomacy I referred to has achieved a lot, and its most prominent fruits are the reality of security and stability enjoyed by the GCC countries, despite the stormy surroundings, and this diplomacy has ensured a distinguished position for GCC countries in the ladder of relations among members of the international community. I speak of Gulf diplomacy, and among us is Mohammed bin Mubarak, one of the founders of this Gulf diplomacy that we all pride ourselves on.

Secondly: Economic Challenges
As for the security challenge in the medium term, economic challenges emerge to us through the following main headlines:
* Almost absolute dependence on a single, depleting economic resource, which is oil.
* Instability in the international economic climate.
* Collapses in international capital markets.
* Disturbances in food markets.
* Sharp fluctuations in oil prices.

These global economic shocks constitute a significant strategic challenge in the medium term for the GCC countries, and their efforts must be united to confront these challenges and work to fortify and protect their economies from these economic exposures.

To address these challenges, GCC countries must accelerate the establishment of a unified Gulf market with its two wings, the customs union and the monetary union, to ensure the creation of a Gulf economic environment that can absorb external shocks with minimal damage and costs, and provide investment opportunities for Gulf capital to enable it to build economic units and structures that enhance employment opportunities for the citizens of GCC countries.

The upcoming Gulf Summit in Kuwait is urgently called upon to focus on this aspect and to proceed with adopting short and medium-term plans to achieve this strategy.
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Third: Demographic Challenges

Finally, if political upheavals and conflicts constitute one of the major obstacles to advancing development programs, other aspects - economic and social - are equally important and impactful on the development plans in the GCC countries. If we carefully examine the demographic reality of the GCC countries, we will realize the magnitude of the challenge posed by this reality in the medium and long term. The deep imbalances in the population composition of all GCC countries indicate the size of the political, cultural, social, and economic risks we are facing. Unfortunately, our GCC countries have not yet developed effective and efficient plans to address these imbalances, either in the short or long term.

Here, I would like to present some indicators that illustrate the magnitude of the demographic challenge we are facing:

1. It is expected that the GCC will witness the fastest population growth rate in the world. According to a recent study by The Economist, the population is expected to increase by 30% by 2020 to reach 53 million people, the vast majority of whom are under 25 years of age. While the population age structure in America and Europe is tending towards aging, the age structure of the GCC population is youthful, with those under the age of 15 constituting 24% of the total population. This is the highest percentage compared to anywhere else in the world except Africa. This rapid growth and the relative youthfulness of the population will pose a real challenge to the ability of the GCC countries to provide employment opportunities for these young people.

2. According to a report prepared by the Industrial Bank of the UAE on the imbalance in GCC labor markets, in which the percentage of national workers compared to foreign workers declines, the percentage of foreign workers to total workforce is 90% in the UAE, 62% in Bahrain, 65% in Saudi Arabia, 65% in Oman, 86% in Qatar, and 83% in Kuwait. The study also showed that the value of external remittances increased by 31% in 2008 to reach $40 billion, compared to $30.5 billion in 2007. To better understand the magnitude of this phenomenon, it is worth noting that the GCC countries rank second globally after the United States in terms of external remittances – i.e., the remittances of foreign workers abroad.

3. The GCC countries are experiencing the emergence of the second generation of foreign labor, meaning residents who have fathered children and established a social life, and their children (the second generation) have entered the labor market. This generation, which knows no other homeland than the GCC countries where they have lived and worked, poses a major problem in terms of how to integrate them into the social and cultural frameworks of GCC societies.

If the security challenge is present and ongoing, such as the issue of the Iranian nuclear program, wars and political conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen), or problems of extremism and terrorism, and if economic challenges are known and defined as current problems and others with short and medium-term dimensions, then this demographic challenge is a strategic challenge for the GCC countries. It requires confronting and addressing it with wisdom, foresight, a long series of quiet, gradual, and innovative measures, including incentives and creative solutions and projects. The preservation of Gulf identity, civil peace, social cohesion, and Gulf cultural identity is very important in our quest to solve this demographic problem.

Distinguished attendees, the challenges facing the GCC countries are numerous and varied, and addressing them comprehensively and entering into all their details requires more time and more sessions. I am confident that this conference, through the seminars and dialogues that will be held over the next two days, will address these topics in more detail and with deeper analysis. Therefore, I have attempted in this introduction to focus only on those that I found to be the most urgent and profound, hoping that I have succeeded in what I intended. Thank you for your openness and good listening.

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