Identifying Drivers of Political Reform in the GCC Countries
Political reform has become an integral part of the overall development process being implemented in the Gulf region. The focus of this workshop will be more specifically on the internal and external drivers of change and how each of these are influencing the current and future political reform process in the GCC States.
Joint Workshop sponsored by the
Gulf Research Center (GRC) and The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
November 15 & 16, 2006
The Gulf Research Center and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held two meetings in 2004 and 2005 respectively focusing on the status of political reform in the GCC States. These meetings provided a broad overview of factors affecting political reform in the Gulf and an evaluation of the changes that have taken place so far in each country. The first GRC-Carnegie meeting, held in September 2004, made an important contribution to the understanding of the reform process by discussing the broad issues that affect political transformation in the area. The second meeting in November 2005 drew comparative lessons among the experiences of the GCC countries, as well as put forward ideas to reinforce the political reform process by strengthening civil society organizations even at a time of high oil prices, which cushions delaying reforms.
As political reform has become an integral part of the overall development process being implemented in the Gulf region, the GRC and the Carnegie Endowment have decided to continue their cooperation and conduct a third meeting on this topic. In order to make the third meeting as productive as the previous ones, the focus this time will be more specifically on the internal and external drivers of change and how each of these are influencing the current and future political reform process in the GCC States.
The November 2005 meeting called for the development of a quantifiable ‘democratic continuum’, where reform would not just be measured just in terms of elections but would also take into account policies dealing with constitutional development, women’s rights, freedom of the press, corruption, administrative transparency, human rights, and education reforms. In this context, the 2006 workshop would look in-depth at the domestic factors that can move the region into such direction. Specific focus will be given to the actors in the region such as political societies, civil society organizations, religious groups and a new middle class. It will equally be important to look at new emerging institutions such as parliaments, municipal councils to see the kind of impact they can generate.
In terms of economic transformation and the emergence of business and middle classes, the role of chambers of commerce needs to be looked at. During elections to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce in December 2005 for example, two women were elected, a historic first for the Saudi kingdom. What are the implications, if any? The emergence of tactical alliances between new middle class members and the ruling elite implies questions about how this "partnership" functions. In the meanwhile, the ruling elites are struggling to initiate reforms dealing with youth unemployment and the socio-economic problems. What are the main obstacles that hinder a successful implementation of economic reforms? Finally from the domestic point of view, it will be relevant to look more closely at the ideas and debates that are contributing or hampering impending reform.
Looking at the external environment, the participants from the region in the November 2005 meeting stated that, while the September 11 events were a factor that has brought the issue of political reforms to the fore, it is certainly not the only catalyst for change. In some respects, US policies had in fact proved to be more of a “stumbling block.” A consensus opinion was that reforms will take place in the region “despite the US and not because of the US.”
Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that external factors do play a role whether positively or negatively. The workshop will thus take a multifaceted approach looking at how reforms taking place elsewhere in the Arab world are having an impact on political reform in the GCC countries, while also discussing the impact of direct external efforts to influence political reform in the Middle East on the GCC States. Specific emphasis is to be given to the perception in Washington and European capitals and the perception in the region and to a comparative analysis that looks at whether efforts have positive or mostly counterproductive effects and how such efforts can be improved upon.
The workshop has been designed so that each panel starts with two initial presentations, one by an analyst from a GCC country and one by an American or European analyst. This will make it possible to compare the different perspectives on what drives political reform in the area. It is also hoped that this will lead to ideas and/or suggestions about how the overall political reform process in the GCC countries can be reinforced and strengthened.
Objectives of the Workshop
• Focus on the Internal and External Drivers for Political Reform in the GCC States
• Look at how domestic factors have influenced and are likely to influence in the future, either positively or negatively, the political reform process in GCC countries
• Look at how external factors have influenced and are likely to influence in the future, either positively or negatively, the political reform process in GCC countries
• Provide a comparative perspective on the perception in the region, in Washington and in European capitals on the impact of various factors on political reform.
• Identifying common denominators shared by all drivers that can promote a reform process in the region and propose implementable policy alternatives.
• Understand the mechanisms of reform between new emerging actors and ruling elite.
• Provide an in-sight on economic networks financing ruling elites and civil societies.