x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Call for $100bn GCC fund for Egypt

Kuwait's former information minister asks the GCC to create a "Marshall fund" to help Egypt recover economically from its revolution.

Egyptians and tourists smoke shisha and drink tea in the popular El-Fishawi coffee shop in the tourist bazaar close to the Al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on March 15, 2011.
Egyptians and tourists smoke shisha and drink tea in the popular El-Fishawi coffee shop in the tourist bazaar close to the Al-Hussein mosque in Cairo on March 15, 2011.

ABU DHABI // A former Kuwaiti minister yesterday called on the GCC to create a US$100 billion (Dh367bn) fund to help Egypt recover from the economic impact of its revolution.

Saad al Ajmi, the former Kuwaiti minister of information, likened the idea to the fund established by the former US secretary of state George Marshall to rebuild Europe after the Second World War.

The Gulf needed to take "a leading role in rebuilding Egypt", said Mr al Ajmi, a founding member of the Kuwait Human Rights Association and the Democratic Assembly of Kuwait.

"Egypt is now passing through a transitional phase, and we have to take her hand and assist her," he said. "We are with Egypt regardless of who rules it, Hosni Mubarak or someone else."

He said the Gulf countries had a "historic opportunity" to fill what he said was a political void in an Arab world filled with turmoil -from an uprising in Yemen, transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, an isolated Syria, a split Libya and Sudan, and an Iraq torn by sectarianism.

The Gulf countries, by contrast, were relatively stable, he said, and could use their "vast reserves of petrodollars to create a Gulf-Arab Marshall fund" aimed at Arab states in transition.

A US$100 billion (Dh367.2bn) assistance programme, which could go towards transparent development programmes and be subject to popular oversight over five years, would be a massive boon to Egypt, he said. "We don't want this coming generation to feel that we were watching its revolution because it's an internal matter, and then watch its difficulty and say it's an internal matter, because it is not so."

Mr al Ajmi also called for a unified GCC army that would spread the cost of defence between Gulf states and reduce the corruption associated with arms deals to the region.

On Gulf relations with Iran, he said a unified Gulf army would not see Iran as an enemy, but as a challenge.

While Gulf countries desired a "competitive and friendly" relationship with the Islamic Republic, they were uncomfortable dealing with a theocratic state, he said.

Mr al Ajmi also called for a GCC court of justice that would settle disputes between Gulf countries, who have traditionally avoided bringing up disagreements.

The Gulf army and court, as well as deeper economic co-operation, would lay the foundations of a "Gulf confederacy" that would allow Gulf countries to take the lead in Arab human development.

Mr al Ajmi said Gulf citizens were not eager for radical political reform, or the overthrow of existing regimes. Instead, they wanted a greater role in public life, and would like to see empowered legislative bodies that could hold their governments to account.

"I am among the most ardent supporters of the survival of our Gulf regimes for very pragmatic reasons," he said. "We did not know any other forms of government before the current Gulf systems.

"They are not democratic regimes, but I cannot defy reality and say they are the dictatorial, awful, oppressive Arab regimes that we see with our very eyes these days.

"What reformers in the Gulf want is developing and improving" channels of communication with the government, such as existing municipal councils and legislative bodies like those in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, particularly since the new generation of Gulf youth is eager to take up a bigger role in the running of their governments. "Reforms should not frighten us," he said.

Mr al Ajmi was speaking on the last day of a conference at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research, titled Global Strategic Developments: A Futuristic Vision.

Gulf experts said that, while the GCC had achieved much in the realm of foreign affairs, it was hindered by a lack of internal development, particularly in education, which they said needed "fundamental reform".

Other challenges included the empowerment of women and finding jobs for the region's youth, who face competition from expatriate labour.

The Gulf's population is expected to reach 67 million by 2050, compared to 41 million last year, according to the UN Development Programme.