This is a summary of discussions that took place at a roundtable discussion held in February 2012 at the Gulf Centre for Policy Studies at the Gulf University of Science and Technology in Kuwait City.
Part of Chatham House’s Future Trends in the GCC research project, the discussion brought together a group of academics, civil society representatives, entrepreneurs, journalists and bloggers from different GCC countries to discuss some of the key trends shaping GCC politics, with a focus on trends in identity politics and the politics of sectarianism in the GCC.
Key points that emerged from the meeting included:
- National identity is still being defined and contested in the GCC states, most of which are less than five decades old.
- Participants felt there is inadequate representation of, or attention to, the youth or to women. It was suggested that new ways need to be found to represent these less traditional forces in societies and institutions.
- The GCC has experienced a surge in sectarian tensions since early 2011 as a result of the interplay between the Bahraini uprising and the increasing Saudi–Iranian tensions. These sectarian tensions were seen as being basically a political phenomenon based on competition for power and resources.
- Nonetheless, it was suggested that Bahrainis and other GCC nationals also need to ask themselves about the social factors that allowed these tensions to grow; many still deny the previous existence of sectarianism, portraying it as solely a government creation or a foreign import. Neither of these presents the full picture.
- It was said that civil society groups could play an important role in addressing the causes of sectarian tensions, promoting dialogue and calling for specific policies to address the spatial, economic, social and labour-market segregation that sometimes divides different religious and ethnic groups in the GCC.