By Arab News
By Saad Dosari
Over the reports of a Gulf Union cooking in the oven, Oman made it loud and clear: We are not part of this.
Citizens of the GCC countries, particularly Saudis, are in a state of shock and bewilderment over the Omani response. Many believe that Oman has the right to choose whatever is in its larger interest.
However, there are some who are in a state of denial, as they did not expect such a response from their otherwise quiet neighbor.
Interestingly, both sides agree on one point at least that Oman is different; it is Omanis and not us who need to change and cope with that change.
I wonder if someone considered that it maybe “us” who are different, maybe not only from Oman but from the rest of the Gulf countries. We may share with them the common lineaments of culture, history, heritage, language, and social ties, but once you dig deeper, differences start to surface. The beat of life and the wheel of society run differently among the Gulf countries. And maybe this is the main reason as to why the GCC has failed in meeting high expectations of many since its very inception. One has to admit, we (GCC members) are similar, but not the same.
That does not mean that GCC has gained nothing by coming under the umbrella of the council. The biggest gain of all was and still is political. Despite the rough political storm sweeping across the Middle East, the GCC countries have remained relatively stable.
Moreover, their differences still does not mean that they cannot build a strong alliance in the areas of education, energy, health, environment, in addition to political and security alliance.
If you have noticed, I exempted the economical alliance. In this particular area, the differences between the Gulf countries become pretty clear. Having an integrated economy is one of the basic requirements of any union. Although the Gulf countries enjoy some features of that integration such as free trade agreements, relaxed taxes and tariffs, special treatments of intra-GCC investments, etc. Still there are major differences that make it difficult for the council to evolve into a “proper” union.
Each and every country in the Gulf has its own set of rules and dynamics to steer its economy including, of course, Saudi Arabia.
Take the challenges of women employment in the Kingdom as an example. While we are still struggling with female cashiers and sales reps in 2013, I remember that the waitresses who served me food at a restaurant at the Omani airport back in 2002 were Omani girls. The nature of the labor market and the work environment is very different from Saudi Arabia and the rest of the GCC members. In a fully-fledged union where movement of labor is granted, how would a Kuwaiti female engineer work on field in the Kingdom, and how a Saudi businesswoman who prefers working only with women could survive in the UAE market?
Other examples can be found in the investment environment; tolerance to foreign capital, expatriates residency, infrastructure, transparency, and ease of procedures all show how unique the Saudi business world is.
The bottom line here is that moving to a fully-fledged union, despite its political gains, needs a lot of efforts to. Here in Saudi Arabia, we are still on a journey to uplift our economy on both the micro and macro levels; oil is still generating the biggest chunk of our income, which is a challenge for the Gulf countries. Our labor market and infrastructure are going through a heavy rectification procedure. And never forget the cultural and social changes that we are dealing with on a daily basis.
It is not that the people of Oman, or Qatar, or the UAE are different and we are not. Each and every country in the Gulf is going through its own course of development and has unique outlook. Before moving into a union, we may need to bridge the gaps first.
About the author: Arab News
Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz.
Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).