x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

GCC's political integration makes sense, but will require time, compromi

Arabic news digest: Political integration of the Gulf Cooperation Council will take time, writes an Arabic language columnist; also stories about Israel's military build-up and the Egyptian presidential election

When the founding fathers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) first conceived this six-nation bloc in the early 1980s, they were not really sure it would evolve into the flourishing economic and trade hub it is today, wrote Saleh Al Manea, a political science professor at Riyadh's King Saud University, in yesterday's edition of the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad.

"They saw that their most pressing issue was to maintain peace and stability in their newly independent countries … especially that the Iraq-Iran War was raging on in their backyard," he said.

Their detractors, however, were quick to label the GCC as a self-serving "Rich Club". Which is such a gratuitous criticism, the writer said.

"Even the European Union had a security and defence agenda when it first started - besides being a union of coal and steel industrialists," he argued. "The most critical role it was meant to play was entrench security and peace between France and Germany … to make Western Europe strong enough to counter the Soviet expansion."

The takeaway from this is that political and economic factors usually work in tandem in informing a decision to establish a union, a bloc or a federation.

The idea of a closer GCC union - which would involve an advanced level of joint political decision-making - was floated by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in December and was reiterated again in a Riyadh summit last week. Its details are still unclear.

Sure, aside from politics and economics, there are strong cultural and social elements that would justify the drive for a closer union among GCC nations, the writer said. "It is not surprising, for instance, to find half of an extended Saudi family living in Qatar, and another part of it based in Kuwait."

These are nations that speak the same language, have almost identical traditions and share historical family ties. Not to mention that they are facing the same regional threats with the drawdown of US forces from the region, while Iran is becoming more influential in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and more belligerent towards Bahrain and the UAE.

"But we must admit that this call for the establishment of a GCC union has come too soon," the writer noted. "And it is understandable that there are concerns about the potential emasculation of national sovereignty within this prospective union."

Compromise on every detail will be key before this union is established, he added. "A colossal media effort is also needed to inform the undecided about the pros and cons of such an undertaking … as popular support will be essential, which may require that the Shura and national councils of the GCC states be consulted and asked to throw their weight behind the concept."

Israel's naval build up perpetuates enmities

Israel has acquired its sixth German-made submarine this month as part of its enduring effort to be the strongest nation in the region in sea warfare, a position that has cost it a lot of money for no peace of mind, commented columnist Mazen Hammad in the Qatari newspaper Al Watan yesterday.

At about $500 million (Dh1.8 billion), this is the most expensive vessel in the Israeli fleet, he said. In a show of force, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, was reported as saying that Israeli submarines have crossed the Suez Canal on several occasions recently and are poised to play an important role in the event of an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

True, these submarines give Israel a critical edge. In a time of peace, they serve as spying platforms. In time of war, they turn into "a military monster", the writer noted. But would Israel's subs bring it any peace of mind? The answer is no, the writer said.

"Israel forgets that genuine, sustainable security does not hinge on submarines, warplanes and tanks; rather, on neighbourly relations … But Israel looks down on its Arab neighbours from high above and does not deign to reach out to them, even though they have no plans to go to war against it."

Repulsed by this attitude, Arabs feel they are justified in resenting Israel. And the vicious cycle continues.


Egyptian hopefuls take debate to the press

The pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat launched yesterday an opinion page featuring articles by Egyptian presidential candidates in the lead-up to the election scheduled for May 23 and 24.

In his article, Lt Gen Ahmed Shafiq, who served for about two months as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak at the height of the Egyptian uprising, wrote: "I have decided to run for president … in response to persistent calls for me to do since as I resigned my position as prime minister in March 2011, and also in response to my country's need for a seasoned statesman."

On the other half of the page, presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, the leader of the opposition Dignity Party, said:

"I pledge that Egypt will enter the global market as an economic, industrial and technological power within eight years … during which the nation's developed area will increase by 50 per cent and agriculture, rural development and the living standards of Egyptian farmers will all improve, and self-sufficiency in food will be achieved."

At the bottom of the page, Hisham Bastawisi, the vice president of the Egyptian Court of Cassation who is running on behalf of the Tagammu (Rally) Party, noted that: "You can't build a healthy society without instating justice in all sectors."

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi