The GCC is speaking as one voice again
Nearly six months on from the signing of Al Ula declaration in Saudi Arabia that was aimed at rejuvenating Gulf unity, there is robust diplomatic activity between the neighbouring states of the region.
The January summit at the historic site ended the three-and-a-half-year rift between Qatar and the quartet of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Since then, dialogue and understanding has been steadily fostered between all parties.
Last week, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim in Jeddah. This came after the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, travelled to Qatar to deliver an invitation from King Salman. Earlier this month, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, visited Jeddah. Also, Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad was in Abu Dhabi this month.
Of his visit to Jeddah, Sheikh Mohamed said: "during a meeting today with my brother Prince Mohammed bin Salman... we discussed our strategic relations and common goals… We also exchanged views on several regional and international issues and explored our strengthened co-operation for the stability of our region."
The focus of co-operation is not just regional stability. In March, the UAE hosted a regional meeting on climate action. Similarly Prince Mohammed also discussed a massive reforestation project to support climate change efforts with his fellow Gulf and Arab leaders.
Climate change and extreme weather are challenges that affect everyone, as countries work to improve the quality of life for their people and boost economic prosperity.
Trade is another good way to illustrate how Gulf countries are further connected, both in terms of opportunities and risks.
The discovery of a large cache of illicit narcotics smuggled through Lebanon, hidden in fresh produce shipped to Gulf consumers, points to the risks. For the former, the UK has started formal steps for a free-trade agreement with the Arab Gulf countries. Both kinds of trade issues can perhaps be best managed together.
More broadly, economies of the Gulf Co-operation Council are set for a modest recovery this year, on the back of a "swift and substantial" response, to contain Covid-19 and an increase in oil prices. This is a solid base for the GCC from which to work.
Of course, there is also the threat of conflict, long standing when it comes to escalating tensions between Iran and Israel and more recently, the fear that the relentless barrage of Israeli air strikes on Gaza might tip the rest of the region into war, should militants in Lebanon or Syria fail to be reined in.
The GCC has made its position clear on the priorities for talks for a new nuclear deal between Iran and international powers. On this front, a satisfactory conclusion for Gulf countries would help reduce the risks for all sides.
Persistent problems such as climate change and energy and technological transitions sweeping through all economies around the world, will also need to be tackled collectively by Gulf nations. These issues stretch across physical borders.
The neighbours face many challenges but they are also crafting solutions between themselves. For example, the UAE and Bahrain have agreed to a travel corridor for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In Al Ula in January, the countries agreed to work together on a number of objectives, many of which were not related to any immediate crisis, but rather spoke to longer-term priorities such as: developing artificial intelligence capabilities, improving defence integration, fighting corruption jointly and empowering women and young people.
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To succeed, Gulf countries will need to continue to work together at all levels, maintaining increased diplomatic activity and focusing on the future, as well as dealing with day-to-day crises, as and when they come up.
If the last 18 months have taught us anything, it is that we should take into account unexpected shocks. Anticipating those will help shape a realistic outlook, not just for the region but for the world at large.
As we navigate the post-pandemic reality, it is clear that closer co-operation between nations and institutions is of immense value. Solid ties between Gulf countries will help tackle whatever unforeseen circumstances come up in the future.
There are potentially exciting times for people who live in the region. Solutions for, say, the next pandemic or unforeseen climate events are being worked on. And when those come to fruition eventually, it is important to note that they will have been prepared now – starting in these past six months, when the foundation for a happier future was being laid together.
Mustafa Alrawi is an assistant editor-in-chief at The National
Updated: May 20, 2021 10:58 AM