Arab Gulf states have greatly evolved in recent decades, but many challenges, including security, need to be addressed, the chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences says.
Gulf states urged on to great vigilance
ABU DHABI // Arab Gulf states have greatly evolved in recent decades, but many challenges, including security, need to be addressed, the chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences says.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, who is also a political sciences professor at UAE University, addressed an audience at New York University Abu Dhabi this week in a lecture titled Understanding the Arab Gulf States of the 21st Century.
“There is plenty of tangible evidence to show that the Arab Gulf states in the past 15 years were vastly different from those 40 years ago,” he said. “A lot has happened and they have gone through some profound, fast-track changes in their societies, economies and states that have taken them to places they probably never imagined 50 years ago.
“In a way, they have been modernising and globalising in one process to catch up with the 21st century.”
He called the pre-1970 period the “pre-modernity phase”, describing it as one-dimensional with very modest resources.
The second phase, “first modernity”, between 1971 and 2000, with large investment in infrastructure, education and building a society.
“Huge changes took place dealing with the independence, building a new state and the oil boom,” Prof Abdulla said. “From 2000 onwards, it was the second modernity phase, with investment in superstructure, culture and [society].”
From its inception in 1971 until today, the UAE’s population has grown from 260,000 people to 9.5 million.
Prof Abdulla said both economic changes and societal changes charted the magnitude of the changes in Gulf states. The oil boom made a clear impact but so too had social diversity, with more open and diversified Arab states compared to 30 years ago.
“Technology is unmatched throughout the region and, politically, states no longer need foreign protection,” he said. “Regionally and globally today, these countries are very visible on the map. They have acquired this very important, distinct Khaleeji identity.”
But challenges remained – namely security – as eight armed conflicts are raging in the Middle East region right now and terrorists are operating in the GCC’s neighbouring countries.
“This will continue precipitating the decline of traditional state structures to enforce their writ and govern effectively – we see that in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but countries like Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey are not totally immune either,” said Sabahat Khan, senior analyst at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military analysis in Dubai.
“In particular, the outcome of the Syrian civil war will have deeply strategic implications for regional and GCC security, and so will the behaviour and conduct of Iran. Iranian policies have a real propensity to throw the region into a dangerous sectarian conflict.”
Dr Theodore Karasik, senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics, said GCC states were entering a period of security challenges which were immediate but also long term.
“These threats range from extremists to cyber-security and climate change,” he said. “So far, the GCC states are doing an excellent job of preparing for the current environment in robust ways but further thinking needs to be done on the future of the region and the scenarios that may emerge.”
Prof Abdulla said that sustaining progress posed challenges. “It won’t be easy as we go on,” he said. “We’re ahead, but the demands of the years ahead are very difficult and it needs a lot of investment to go beyond the physical infrastructure that you have already, to go to a next huge category, which is the intangible and the infrastructure that is value-oriented.
“It has to do with culture, education and what the UAE is doing is exactly that, to build the post-oil society and economy.”