The Arab Spring and the Gulf States: Time to Embrace Change
Mohamed AJ Althani
Sheikh Mohamed Ahmed Jassim Althani's new book, The Arab Spring and the Gulf States: Time to Embrace Change, begins with a reminder of quite how much has actually changed in this region in recent decades.
"In the 1960s, it was common to see people riding donkeys and camels [and] water was scarce," writes Qatar's former minister of economy and trade, before suggesting that, although life was undoubtedly hard in his home nation during his childhood, it was also honest and true, despite the region at large being blighted by high rates of infant mortality and being hamstrung by chronically low levels of literacy.
This slim volume offers a well-structured, thoughtful analysis of the Arab Spring and the challenges and opportunities it presents to the Mena region generally and the GCC nations specifically. Having also spent years working in the oil and gas sectors, the author appears well-placed to offer a view on the journey the GCC has taken in his lifetime - effectively moving from poverty to prosperity - and to put those transformations into the context of the regional ruptures sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi's act of self-immolation in December 2010.
Althani is "deeply concerned" by some of what he finds in the GCC and is troubled by the younger generations "whose main goal is just to secure whatever job they can, especially in the public sector, and do as little work as possible while enjoying the good life". Of course, the triggers for the protests in Egypt and Tunisia - steepling rates of unemployment coupled with an almost complete lack of hope for anything better - were far removed from that aforementioned good life.
Neither circumstance exists to such a chronic degree within most parts of the GCC, but still, the challenge is to create enough jobs to service a rapidly growing population as well as funding the requisite infrastructure to cope with such expansion and to keep the economy driving forward in relatively tough times. Depending on your point of view, you might easily argue that high energy prices provide the appropriate breathing space to address these challenges or that no state is completely immune from the contagion of protest that spread across the region at the beginning of 2011.
Althani remains generally upbeat about what lies ahead, asserting that this is "one of the most exciting times to be an Arab" and reminding the reader that "in one year, the Arab Spring has achieved changes unimaginable in the previous fifty". In other words, the future is full of infinite possibilities.
His ambitious concluding manifesto, which also reaches at widespread economic and political reform, argues for more transparency from government and, interestingly, calls on "citizens of the Gulf to change their perception of the role of the state". It is Althani's assertion that the self-entitlement he senses in younger generations stifles innovation and will eventually hinder future growth.