This is a summary of discussions that took place at a workshop held at Chatham House in May 2012.
Part of Chatham House's Future Trends in the GCC project, the event brought together a group of political activists from different movements, government and NGO representatives, economists, business people and academics. The two-day workshop addressed Islamism and identity politics in the Gulf, the impact of regional dynamics and the politics of sectarianism as well as citizenship and the economy, and political development.
This summary focuses on the second day of the workshop.
Key points that emerged from the workshop included:
- Longstanding efforts to diversify the GCC economies away from oil are being undermined by current trends in public spending. These require an ever-increasing oil price in order to balance the budget, and are mainly funding higher salaries and subsidies rather than productive activities.
- Ultimately the GCC states need to become less dependent on oil and on foreign labour. The urgency of such reforms varies from country to country, but each will ultimately face the same challenges. Economic integration efforts should focus on finding common solutions.
- Over the next decade, government spending patterns and the structure of the labour market will need to alter, although the urgency of reform varies between the GCC countries. Economic changes might eventually be the main drivers of political changes.
- In most of the GCC countries, the majority of citizens aspire to evolutionary reform; a variety of participants expressed a desire to contribute ideas for their country’s development and felt governments were sometimes too quick to see criticism as a threat without appreciating its constructive potential.