“A Window onto the Gulf Cooperation Council” – Remarks by His Excellency Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani

“A Window onto the Gulf Cooperation Council,
Together With a View Regarding Its
Involvement Of Late With Yemen”

Remarks by

His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani,
Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council

to the

Gulf Research Center’s Third Annual Gulf Research Meeting,
University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

July 11, 2012

Introduction by Dr. John Duke Anthony,
Founding President and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations


The National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations is privileged to publish the remarks made earlier today by H.E. Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who has granted his permission.   The occasion is the three-day Third Annual Gulf Research Meeting (GRM) presented by the Gulf Research Center (GRC) with offices in Jeddah, Geneva, and Cambridge, UK.   Founded by Dr. Abdalaziz Sager less than two decades ago, with the overriding strategic maxim of “Knowledge for All,” the GRC has rapidly become a leading institute specializing in research, education, seminars, workshops, publications, and consultancy.

That the GRC has joined hands with the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s oldest and most renowned universities, host to its own Center for Middle East Studies, as well as Professorships endowed by HM Sultan Qaboos Bin Said of Oman and HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin ‘Abdalaziz Al Sa’ud, and long a leading center for research, studies, and public as well as private sector service pertaining to the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world, speaks volumes.  It is testimony to the centuries-old, deeply-rooted, and enduring state-to-state, institution-to-institution, and people-to-people relationships between Great Britain and the regions encompassing Arabia and the Gulf.

2011 Gulf Research Meeting

2011 Gulf Research Meeting (Photo: Gulf Research Center)

If this GRM in itself does not provide a window on the state of intellectual, academic, scholarly, and analytical affairs, prowess, and assessments of the Western peoples regarding this region of global importance to all of humankind, then it is difficult to imagine where else, other than the Annual International Conferences of the renowned Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research and the growing number of strategy-focused meetings and workshops being held in other GCC countries, one might find as telling a window, or perhaps a gate is the more apt metaphor, onto an institution that comprises what are arguably among the world’s most misunderstood peoples, cultures, and governments as well as systems of political dynamics.

Enter the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the newest of the Arab world’s sub-regional organizations.  Comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and established in 1981, it its headquartered in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.  It is hard to imagine a geographically smaller organization with one that territorially-speaking has a larger global reach — in terms of its internationally-oriented policies and positions, in terms of its actions and attitudes — regarding its members and billions of other people’s issues, regarding its members and billions of other people’s legitimate needs and concerns, regarding its members and billions of other people’s legitimate interests and national development processes as well as foreign policy objectives.

Gulf Cooperation Council

Gulf Cooperation Council

In this light, who better to explain what the GCC is and is not, what its people aspire to, what it has accomplished to date, how it is organized and led, how it addresses matters of policy and action, how it reaches its decisions, and what procedures it follows in search of consensus among the member-states than the organization’s Secretary General? Who better to explain what the GCC has done regarding not only its members but also neighbouring Yemen than the GCC’s Secretary General who, in close association and consultation with the organization’s superior bodies, the Supreme Council comprised of it six heads of state, and the Ministerial Council comprised of its six Ministers of Foreign Affairs?  And in what venue more appropriate than the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, where in less than six weeks’ time, some ten thousand Olympic athletes will descend upon the City of London and its environs together with some 600,000 tourists to participate in and observe one of the oldest international cooperation events in recorded human history?

Dr. John Duke Anthony, President and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and Secretary, U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee, Washington, D.C., USA.    


“Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, once again it gives me great pleasure as the Secretary General of the GCC to be invited back to speak to this distinguished audience. I have been asked to give a general update and then say a few words about the GCC Initiative in Yemen.

H.E. Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani

H.E. Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani addressing the 2011 Gulf Research Meeting. (Photo: Gulf Research Center)

“It is almost exactly a year since I was last here, and what a twelve months they have been for the world and the region: the global financial crisis appears to be nowhere near to being solved; oil and gas prices seem to fluctuate in response to almost any factor (helped no doubt by “speculation”) and international banks swing from one crisis to another. On the security front , we appear to be in as difficult a position as when I last spoke here, with Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and maritime piracy all proving to be as problematic (if not more so) than before, and with those countries effected by the so called “Arab Spring” still having some way to go before true stability prevails.

“When I last spoke and gave a brief overview of the GCC, I did so with all the authority of someone who had been in the appointment barely three months. Now, twelve months older and with less hair (!), I am glad to take the opportunity to expand and add nuance to what I said about the GCC. The time has allowed me the opportunity to consider closely and articulate all we do and why we do it.


“I will start with our main threats and challenges which I summarise as:

  • Regionally: the conditions and negative attitudes in some neighbouring states; the Middle East Peace Process, and importantly, international strategies in our region.
  • Internally, we face sectarian challenges; employment problems (particularly for our youth); potential shortages in food and water and of course we must consider the security of our energy resources, its conservancy and the period after  resources run out.
  • Like all others we are vulnerable to global environmental conditions; threats from terrorism and international organised crime in particular narcotics, financial and cyber, and of course nuclear and other WMD proliferation.

“In facing these challenges, we take an optimistic and positive stance. We see them as opportunities calling for focus and the strengthening of cooperation between member states and between the GCC and other international and regional nations and blocs. Now four points, which I believe cannot be reiterated enough:

  • Firstly, after over 31 years of existence, our nations are more unified than ever; we are aware of our international responsibilities and speak with the same voice on all important global and regional matters.
  • Secondly, our nations, with a proud heritage of being an integral part of the Arab and Islamic world, are situated at the epi-centre of a turbulent region and understand intimately the strengths, weaknesses and challenges posed. As a result we are in a strong position to assist with solutions and are able to provide a unique contribution to building a secure and stable Middle East and Arabian Gulf.
  • Thirdly, despite some criticism, human values are at the top of our agenda. We cherish our citizens who are an essential source of GCC development. More on this later.
  • Lastly and relevantly, our leaders have shown the political will to rise above the national level.


“Our overall Vision for the GCC is that it should achieve and maintain ‘prosperity’ in the widest sense of the word: economic wealth for each nation and citizen; opportunities to satisfy personal aspirations; equal opportunities for education, health, employment and social services – all within the boundaries of a safe and secure environment and political stability.

“We strive to achieve this vision through five broad strategic goals.

“Our first strategic goal is to “Secure the GCC against all Threats”, and here we specifically consider all intentional malicious acts such as external aggression, terrorism and serious organised crime, where incidentally we are considering establishing a “GCCPOL” on the lines of “Europol”.

Arabian Peninsula

“The principles we follow are that an attack on one is an attack on all and that tension should be resolved through political dialogue, consultation and cooperation between ourselves, allies and interested parties.  Above all we reject regional or international domination of the Arabian Gulf, as indeed we reject interference in our internal affairs.

“Regional uncertainties and rise in terrorism over the recent past have ensured that for military and counter-terrorist issues we have tightened internal and external cooperation. We have not held back from giving advice and at times have acted as a useful intermediary for discussions between parties. Nor have we held back in our attempts to promote dialogue and counter international tensions. For example Saudi Arabia’s initiative to fund the “Centre for Inter-Religious and Intercultural Dialogue” in Vienna, where it is hoped to motivate discussion between the world’s leading religions.

“We fully appreciate that our security is best guaranteed through international links and agreements and hope that an occasion will not arise when we have to act without the support of our allies. However, we also understand that we must be able to stand on our own, either because our allies and our own national interests may not be fully compatible, or, because there may be an emergency situation in which allied assistance may not be immediately available. As a result priority is being given to strengthening and enhancing our “Joint” capabilities such as the Peninsular Shield Force [See below]; establishing a Regional Maritime Coordination Centre; considering a joint response to CBRN threats and working towards a Regional Integrated Air and Missile Defence System. This joint approach is not only practical in pooling ideas and as a force-multiplier, but is also a strong signal of GCC solidarity and determination.

“Finally on this goal, one should always remember that the actions and statements in the region by our allies will almost certainly impact on us. Close liaison over future plans and actions are essential.


“Our next strategic goal is to “Sustain and Increase Economic Growth”.  Fortunately we have (through joint efforts), demonstrated economic resilience in weathering the global financial crisis and continue to maintain healthy growth. For this to be maintained and to preserve our wealth for future generations, we are very conscious that we must safeguard, but place less emphasis on our abundant, but finite, natural resources and concentrate on diversification. We see ourselves moving from being “resource-fed” to “knowledge-led” economies.

“Towards this end, we have promoted an ethos of economic innovation; encouraged internal investment; provided for easier cross flow of labour and closer customs union. To give some examples, since the GCC Customs Union was launched in 2003, trade between GCC members has increased by nearly 200%, or more than 20% a year from $30 billion in 2002 to over $90 billion in 2011. Similarly, with the GCC Common Market launch in 2008, GCC investors have equal access to markets across the GCC and have the right to engage in any internal economic activity. As a result, intra-GCC investments have jumped by nearly 50% and movements of GCC nationals between member states has also increased significantly, whether for work, education or leisure.

“In addition to steps towards tighter market and fiscal union, we are integrating even further through such schemes as a trans-GCC railway system and interlinked power grids. One can say that we are moving towards achieving “GCC economic citizenship”, with a shift from national to GCC thinking. We are advancing with caution, learning from the experience of others; happily and unashamedly imitating success, but being wary of those areas which have proved problematic. As I said to European Members of Parliament, on a recent visit to Brussels – “we have much to learn, particularly from you with your experiences – both positive and negative”!!


“Our third strategic goal, to “Encourage and Maintain a High Level of Human Development”, reflects the fact that we consider the human being to be our single most valuable asset. It impacts directly on every other goal in a social, political, economic and security sense and covers all aspects of improving standards of living, eradicating unemployment, enhancing chances for youth, providing the best education, healthcare, housing, community services and so on. Each of our nations aspires to see development processes and political systems which serve, elevate and fulfil the aspirations and needs of their people. Quite simply, in addition to having surpassed International Millennium Development Goals, we also want every citizen from all levels of society to feel that he or she has been provided with unsurpassed advantages and benefits.

Gulf Cooperation Council Leaders

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders during their annual summit meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on December 19, 2011. (Photo: Saudi Press Agency)

“Under our Common Market rules we have expanded social and welfare development across borders, so that GCC citizens now have the right to equal treatment in all member states whether education, medical care or accessing social services.

“We recognise there must be less dependence on international specialist manpower and like many nations have a youthful population whose employment and education (particularly in technology and modern science) are at the top of our priorities. For them we encourage innovation and physical fitness and also seek international and particularly regional participation in our Centres of Learning, with all the benefits of mutual understanding that will flow.

“It is the human factor, linked to government processes, which often cause the most misunderstanding and questions to be raised.  All I can say is that “Good Governance” is the number one priority of each of our nations, where each in their own way have democratic processes which allow the voices of citizens to be heard. The “winds of change” are blowing, and together governments and citizens are progressing towards a more harmonious and mutually beneficial society – to move too slowly will be harmful, but to move too quickly could be fatal. We seek, and indeed embrace evolution – but not revolution.


“Strategic goal number four is to “Improve Public Safety by developing Strategies for Risk Awareness, Risk Management and Crisis Management”. It is the foundation for providing the GCC with a degree of ‘resilience’ against all risks, including those posed by the environment.  We are establishing a GCC Emergency Risk Management Centre which will be the focal point for coordinating all aspects of Risk Management: from the compilation of a GCC-wide Risk Register to common training and procedures. The Centre will also coordinate an enhanced programme for the provision of GCC disaster emergency aid and assistance (including specialist manpower and equipment) to wherever it is required worldwide.

“It is intended that this goal will be the focal point for changing the philosophy of national governments, institutions and citizens by making them more risk averse. We will also be establishing a GCC Radiation Monitoring Centre as a response to nuclear proliferation in the region. Both this and the Emergency Management Centre are examples of close GCC integration on matters of mutual concern. Our vision is to draw up a GCC Regional Resilience Strategy in both theory and practice, which hopefully will become an example for Regions elsewhere.


“Our last strategic goal is to “Strengthen the International Status of the GCC” and is at the heart of our regional and international dialogue and cooperation. It is through this goal that we hope to communicate the readiness of the GCC to contribute to the solution of global issues. Many of you will be aware of some of the recent work we have carried out; notably development assistance programmes and donations for humanitarian and development aid throughout Africa and Asia, as well as relief and reconstruction aid to various countries following natural disasters. This is all in addition to bilateral arrangements between GCC nations and others worldwide.

“We are also taking a more proactive role in assisting our international partners with political challenges; high profile examples of which are Libya, Egypt and our work with the Arab League towards a solution in Syria. We naturally share the grave international concerns surrounding Iran and continue to do everything we can to cooperate with the international community to attempt to ease these tensions.


“This leads nicely to the detail of GCC involvement in Yemen where I will begin by saying a few words on our organisation. This will let you have an idea of our decision making process.

“Our organisation is simple and I believe is free of much of the bureaucratic influences of other Blocs. At the top sits the “Supreme Council” consisting of Heads of State. This presides over the “Ministerial Council” composed of national Ministers of Foreign Affairs which in turn has various Ministerial Committees covering all aspects of economic, social and political affairs reporting to it. In addition and reflecting the importance of security matters, a “Joint Defence Council” and a “Ministers of Interior Council” also report directly to the Supreme Council.  Finally, there is my own organisation (the “General Secretariat”) which supports the system, and 13 Gulf social organisations encompassing such aspects as health, labour and social affairs and education amongst others. I will say more about these later.



“To return to Yemen, it is important to realise that as her only direct neighbours, the GCC and Yemen have strong historic, cultural and geographic ties. Since the foundation of the GCC we have been closely involved economically, socially and financially with the hope that with our support and assistance, Yemen could rise to the level of our own development.

“Sadly, and for reasons we all know, this was not to be and by late 2010 Yemen was on the verge of collapse with all out civil war a breath away. Something needed to be done, and urgently, so in early 2011 the GCC Supreme Council directed that communication be opened between the GCC and the Government and Opposition in Yemen. Five meetings took place in April 2011 between the GCC Ministerial Council and the Yemeni ruling party and opposition groupings. The result was consensus on five principles which would need to be reflected in any successful outcome.

  1. A solution should guarantee unity, security and the independence of Yemen.
  2. It should be responsive to the aspirations of citizens for change and reform.
  3. Transfer of authority should be peaceful, smooth and as a result of national consensus.
  4. All parties must be committed to eradicating political and security tension.
  5. All parties must pledge to guarantee no vengeance, pursuit or prosecution.

“Following this consensus, intensive, and I have to say often difficult, negotiations commenced under myself and lasted until the signing of the “Gulf Initiative” on 23 November 2011. To my mind, the Agreement represents a successful model of mediation leading to a peaceful transfer of power. It is therefore worth considering the factors involved which I have grouped under three broad headings:

“Firstly, factors related to the GCC:

  • Our heads of state were not remote. They played a prominent and influential, but “behind the scenes” role, by personally intervening to push forward stalled negotiations.
  • GCC were the ideal negotiators because of the ties. Trust was there.
  • At an early stage we identified the most important opposition parties with whom to negotiate and they were treated as representing the various opposition factions.
  • The GCC, from the top down, displayed unflinching determination (and patience) to ensure the five principles remained largely intact. They constituted clear and specific goals.
  • I was able at all times to discuss matters directly with representatives of the Ministerial Council and at times directly with national leaders.

“Secondly, factors related to the situation in Yemen:

  • A sense of hopelessness and fear of civil war generated a shared desire by the ruling party and the opposition for a peaceful solution.
  • Yemen’s opposition is organised and well-rooted which assisted in identifying negotiators.
  • The relevant Yemeni parties participated from the beginning and continuity prevailed. Flexibility was displayed but the ‘principles’ stood intact
  • Yemenis have a reputation for pragmatism which manifested itself during negotiations and led logically to the solution of “Peace over Chaos”.

“Thirdly, factors related to international support:

  • The negotiation process had the full support of the regional and international community. In particular ambassadors from UNSC permanent members and the EU in Sana’a were invaluable and participated in the Sana’a meetings.
  • In turn there was continual dialogue with senior politicians and officials, especially the US and EU. Their stance and support helped to unify international support.
  • International Organisations (UN and Arab League) were also most supportive from the start. The signing of UNSC Resolution 2014 in October 2011 was a turning point by signalling international support. It added impetus .
  • Last, but not least, the appointment of Mr. Jamal Bin Omar as the UN Special Envoy to Yemen was an important step and an inspired choice. His expertise, wisdom and communication skills were a major factor.


“Having been intimately involved with this conflict mediation process from start to finish, I would like to pass on three main lessons for the future:

  • Firstly, there is no such thing as a successful outcome without the full and unequivocal agreement of all parties involved. Inevitably with high stakes and vested interests on the line, none of the negotiating parties will wish to stray too much from their own position. Thus there will be “black” and “white” and it is the mediator’s task to find a shade of “grey” that is acceptable to all. This is not easy – but is absolutely essential.
  • Secondly and linked to the above, all parties must be prepared to stay the course to seek an agreed outcome. This will involve determination, persistency and energy from the mediator as well as the drive to maintain the momentum of negotiation – there should be no re-visiting of initial stances. In our case I was able to remind those around the table time and again of the five Principles which had been agreed by all parties. These in effect became our Goals, which once agreed made it difficult for parties to stray from.
  • Thirdly, and absolutely key to any mediation process is the question of Trust, without which the whole process is undermined. This is manifested at various levels:
    • Trust in the process.
    • Trust between opposing negotiators – the difficulties of which cannot be overestimated.
    • Trust between negotiators and the mediator.
    • Trust between all at the table and their own principals – they must speak with authority.
    • Lastly, but most importantly trust in the outcome and that all parties will abide by the Agreement.

“From lessons, to a thought, which I believe might be worthy of research. There is no doubt in my mind that Yemen is an excellent example of how regional friends can assist each other. I wonder why it does not happen more often? We often see a conflict either within a nation, or between nations escalate immediately to UN, EU, NATO, Arab League or some other major bloc for resolution. I know there will be factors such as trust and vested interests which sometimes inhibit local or regional mediation – but quite often there appears to be reluctance by neighbours to be involved for no good reason. Are we doing enough to resolve or prevent conflict at a local level?

My thoughts are based on instinct, but I do believe that a study (and there may already have been some of which I am not aware) by researching historical and other relevant data, might unearth facts and lead to conclusions on whether this is a route that could be pursued in a methodical fashion, and what advantages are to be gained. Could, for instance, mechanisms be emplaced to facilitate such assistance? Just a thought!


“As we look to the future of Yemen, I can only say that while the mediation phase was not easy, the implementation phase, as we all know, faces many challenges. There is still a huge amount to be done to undo past influences and allow the present regime the freedom they require to function fully. Although the baton has largely been passed from the GCC to the UN, we still give our full support to, and remain intimately involved socially and economically with our close neighbour and friend. As an example, Yemen is a member of all thirteen of our Gulf social organisations which I mentioned earlier and we will soon have a full-time GCC ambassador based there.

“In Yemen we have at least crossed the first hurdle. It is vital now for the unified international community to continue to support her fully, persistently and into the long term. By doing this, hopefully the process which we in the GCC began will end in eventual and complete success.

“I hope now you have a better understanding of the GCC, its priorities and the part we played in Yemen – a role which of course was completely consistent with our overall goals of security, economic enhancement, human development, crisis management and international engagement.

“Thank you.”

His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since April 2011, is a retired General in the Bahrain Defence Force. Before his appointment as Secretary General of the GCC, he served as Adviser within The General Court of Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the rank of Minister. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, His Excellency Dr. Al Zayani served as Chairman of the Joint Steering Committee between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the United Kingdom, and as Chairman of the Development and Regulation Committee of Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A graduate of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, UK, His Excellency Dr. Al Zayani has advanced degrees from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate in operations research from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. In addition to his public service, he has taught mathematics and statistics at the University of Maryland, quantitative methods and statistics at the University of Bahrain, and quantitative methods and total quality management at the Arabian Gulf University.



2 thoughts on ““A Window onto the Gulf Cooperation Council” – Remarks by His Excellency Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani

  1. Pingback: Envisioning the GCC's Future: Prisms for Perspective - Remarks from GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Al Zayani — Arabia, the Gulf, and the GCC Blog

  2. Pingback: Envisioning the GCC's Future: Prisms for Perspective - Remarks from GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif Al ZayaniArabia, the Gulf, and the GCC Blog

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