By His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council
Cambridge University, Cambridge, United Kingdom
August 16, 2016
Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Saqer, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you once again for inviting me to this beautiful city and allowing me to say a few words. My friend Dr. Abdul Aziz, I speak on behalf of all of us gathered here when I say how grateful we are to you and your staff for organizing this annual event to debate matters of such importance and urgency in an atmosphere of academic calm.
This is now the sixth year that I have spoken here and in preparing for today I reflected on the intervening years. Despite some of the most challenging times, there is a consistent strand, namely that we are always striving to make our region a better and more secure place for all our citizens – we are looking at where we want to be.
Here, I think that the GCC vision that sums it up is: “To achieve and maintain prosperity in the widest sense of the word.” In other words, economic wealth for each nation and citizen; opportunities to satisfy personal aspirations; equal opportunities for health, education, employment, and social services, all within a safe and secure environment; and political stability.
This, with one important addition – which is “and to live in harmony despite differences in philosophy and ideology” – is surely the vision for the whole region? The citizens of the region are crying out for an end to violence and a return to normality, peace, and security – so why is this so elusive? Your workshops are wide-ranging, and all in one way or another will impact on this important question. Today, I will look at some of the social, economic, and political factors involved but concentrate mainly on security, with the hope of adding focus to your discussions.
Firstly, there are social issues where there are huge challenges, but probably the greatest social challenge for all of us is our youth – because they are our future. Without appropriate education, employment, and guidance they will be lost souls, easily manipulated, and prone to being turned into a destructive element in society. It is for this reason that the nations of the GCC place youth at the top of the social priority list. But I ask you to give thought on what can be done in a proactive way to consider helping the youth in the region’s trouble spots. They are a seriously endangered species!
Probably the greatest social challenge for all of us is our youth – because they are our future. Without appropriate education, employment, and guidance they will be lost souls, easily manipulated, and prone to being turned into a destructive element in society.
These forward looking programs, as well as including plans for diversification of economies, also encompass social strategies; harmonious integration between public and private sectors, and the world of the entrepreneur. They are ambitious – but by treating society and the economy with equal priority, I am confident that we are on top of the challenges. This, of course, does not apply to many other nations in the region – in your deliberations, think about how to stimulate economies and repair societies.
To succeed, however, the social and economic pillars must be backed by a sound political framework and for many nations in our region this is not yet even a “work in progress.” But for us in the GCC, we know what needs to be done, and each of our member states is considering how best to face their own future’s political, economic, and security challenges both unilaterally and collectively.
On a wider front we must recognize that the balance of power in the Middle East is even now being reshaped with a process of regional re-configuration underway. Uncertainty and potential changing priorities of our traditional international allies have prompted some nations of the region to think independently and ahead, with renewed focus, and, if necessary, to be prepared to take unilateral action. This has resulted in new political alliances between regional partners. Thus, national as well as regional politics are in a state of evolution.
This new thinking is demonstrated in Yemen where without the Saudi-led coalition fighting for the restoration of the legitimate transitional government, the forces of destabilization and lawlessness might have prevailed. Here, I remind you, that together with the international community, and despite all the recent setbacks, we remain committed to the full and undiluted implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216. Rather than spend too much time updating you on the fluid situation that currently surrounds Yemen, I would prefer to talk in more detail during the discussion period after this speech. But first allow me to thank and praise the patience of the Government of Kuwait who has done so much to host the dialogue that sadly has now broken down. I would also like to thank the UN and in particular its special envoy to Yemen, Mr Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, for his excellent work and persistence under frustrating circumstances.
Now to some of the other security challenges which must be overcome. First there is Da’esh, against which is currently lined up a formidable but improbable alliance of regional and international forces with greatly improved operational coordination. It is becoming clearer that one day, sooner rather than later, Da’esh will be forced from its self-proclaimed territories through military means.
But what then? This will not solve the wider threat of regional and global extremism; if anything it could be a catalyst for worse, as Da’esh and off-shoot groups look for other arenas.
This leads directly to our second problem of radicalization – here we must do everything in our power to prevent this taking place and somehow or other regain the minds of those to whom violent fanaticism is ingrained. This is a global problem, but because religion is the excuse, we Muslims must lead in countering such misplaced ideology. The GCC is taking this seriously, and globally I hope that the recently established UN Centre for Countering Terrorism, funded almost totally by Saudi Arabia, might be able to, in addition to its other functions, act as a focal point for exchange of ideas and coordination of efforts to disrupt radicalization. Again, this is an area for serious reflection.
Allow me now to turn to Syria, where the dynamics change almost daily. We in the GCC remain committed to the political process and ultimate transfer of power while respecting the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Syria. The fate of Syria is closely linked to Da’esh and its eventual endgame. The handling of these events need to be considered together and not in isolation as we must ensure that the mistakes of the chaos following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, or the disorganized response to the so-called Arab Spring, which together created the vacuum that sucked in these extremist groups, will not be repeated.
The fate of Syria is closely linked to Da’esh and its eventual endgame. The handling of these events need to be considered together and not in isolation.
Linked to this is how Iran, now virtually freed from the shackles of sanctions, will face the future. I hope that any new found wealth will be used wisely for the benefit of Iranian citizens and the wider region. However, if Iranian ambitions cause the terms of the treaty to be broken, the penalties laid down in the agreement must follow. I also hope that Iran’s engagement within the region will be good neighborliness; non-interference in the domestic affairs of other nations; respect for territorial integrity, and that she will act in accord with international law. Iran’s behavior is one of the keys to the future stability of the region!
I am sure that it will not have escaped your attention that external dynamics are actors in everything I have said. We have always been a region which is at the very center of opposing interests, where global powers have pursued their own agendas – you have only to look at what is happening in Syria today. Indeed, some say that our current dilemma stems largely from external influences. I wonder if, in the modern history of our states, we have ever truly been in control of our own destinies. A new regional balance may change this.
But for now there is no better example of external influence than the Middle East Peace Process – a problem since 1948 and the excuse for all forms of (including state-sponsored) violence. We must put priority and fresh effort into reviving the vision of a two state solution based on the Arab Peace Initiative. Countless initiatives have proved unsuccessful – sometimes through lack of trust and sometimes through deliberate sabotage. Either way, the UN and other mediators appear powerless. I do not know what the answer is, but I do know that if the P5+1 super powers can broker a nuclear deal with Iran despite the vehement objections of the Israeli government and the cynicism of many Arab states then some form of lasting settlement must be possible. This is important for a stable region.
Everything I have said is easier to say than to do, but it must be done if our region is to successfully move to a stable future. There will be hurdles and challenges, but we are certainly not going to achieve change by the traditional thinking of the past. New approaches are required involving considerable recalibration of political will and putting trust, and perhaps compromise, at the heart of our efforts.
Nevertheless, we remain part of the international community and we must rely on the good offices of the United Nations. I therefore hope that as our region adapts to the future the United Nations will also reflect on the way it functions and whether the vested interests of the Permanent Members of the Security Council should be allowed to continue to play such an influential role – after all they have remained there by self-appointment since 1945.
New approaches are required involving considerable recalibration of political will and putting trust, and perhaps compromise, at the heart of our efforts.
The last two years have shown that the unthinkable is being thought at regional level. But new thoughts will only really be successful if those who pull the strings from outside the region also look at themselves. One changing without the other will not suffice, especially as it is those outside who hold the keys to the region’s future. This whole subject really does merit your attention.
Ladies and gentlemen, violence has not taken us one step forward, but I am an optimist and despite everything I believe there is hope for the region. This depends largely on how successfully we close down the challenges of Da’esh, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Yemen, while concurrently placing priority on the fight against global terrorism and radicalization. Above all we must not forget the mental and physical repairs that are necessary for all affected human beings. Humanitarian issues must be at the core of our thinking.
I have given you some thoughts and as I conclude, let me ask that in your discussions over the next few days, to please debate these matters with imagination. All citizens of the region have the basic right to live in harmony despite differences in philosophy and ideology, and to inhabit a world of normality where the sun rises each morning on a scene of creation rather than destruction.
- Ambassador Stuart Laing – “The Gulf Counties Are Not Without Problems: Which of us is?” (August 16, 2016)
- Dr. Imad Harb – “U.S.-GCC Relations and the Fight Against ISIS” (August 11, 2016)
- Dr. Paul Sullivan – “Can Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030″ Get the Kingdom Off the Oil-Economy Roller Coaster?” (June 20, 2016)
- Dr. John Duke Anthony – “America, Arabia, and the Gulf: At a Crossroads?” (May 31, 2016)
- Dr. John Duke Anthony – “Arabia to Asia: The Myths of an American ‘Pivot’ and Whether or Not There’s a U.S. Strategy Toward the GCC Region” (April 22, 2016)
- Christopher H. Johnson – “Economic Reform in Saudi Arabia: Opportunities for the Kingdom & America” (April 21, 2016)
- Dr. Paul Sullivan – “An Existential Political Economy of Post-Conflict Syria, Yemen, and Libya” (February 16, 2016)