Bridging the Gulf

Written by Olivia Arigho-Stiles on . Posted in Current publications, Publications

The Gulf (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain) is one of the most diverse and complex regions for global policymakers. Sensitive to the increasing importance of the Gulf region for the European Union in particular,  Luigi Narbone, Director  of the Mediterranean Programme at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (RSCAS) and Martin Lestra, a PhD researcher at the EUI, are the co-editors of an eBook exploring the major themes colouring debates on the Gulf for policymakers and academics.

Entitled The Gulf Monarchies beyond the Arab spring: changes and challenges, the eBook is the product of a conference organised by RSCAS which brought together journalists, policymakers and academics in a discussion on ‘The Gulf region: domestic dynamics and global-regional perspectives, Implications for the EU’. It explores the Gulf’s relations with Iran, the USA and the EU, internal migration and jihadist dynamics among other topics.

In an interview with EUI Times, Narbone explains ‘It was my idea to bring together scholars as well as policymakers and journalists to look at different levels and different disciplines. The idea was to get a good understanding of how this region has been growing and playing an increasingly important role. We looked for instance at what it meant for the Gulf to become a new global player, the shift towards Asia, how the states position themselves and the attempt to diversity economies away from oil and gas. A few years ago the region was only known for being an exporter of oil and gas; now it’s much more than that.’’

8524177376_cc672ebc5e_kYet while the Gulf monarchies have indeed attracted recognition in other areas, with Dubai often cited as a model for the new ‘global city’ for example, it is still oil and gas which dominates policy focus. In recent months this attention has been amplified due to the dramatic fall in oil prices. For Narbone, this means that the eBook’s discussion of the future of the Gulf is particularly prescient.

He tells EUI Times, ‘We want to look at the future situation taking into consideration oil prices are down from around 100 dollars to 40 dollars. The reduction in oil prices will likely force major cuts and changes in economic policies and will have an impact also on the capacity of these countries to play a role in the region. Subsidies will have to be reviewed, the big role of the state as an investor will have to be reviewed. They’re entering into a new stage of austerity which will force economic change, and may have political implications.’’

These political implications are especially significant given the transformation of the Middle East in recent years following the Arab Spring. Many commentators initially speculated whether the popular pro-democracy protest movements which resulted in the collapse of several regimes in the Middle East would spread to the authoritarian Gulf monarchies. However, partly through reliance on oil money as a guarantor of social stability, they have proved resilient and have been able to guarantee domestic consensus, while their policies have become increasingly proactive in the MENA region.

The eBook’s publication therefore comes at a point of crucial juncture for the region and it represents invaluable reading for policymakers, scholars and journalists alike.

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