11.07.2019 in Society

Democracy in the GCC countries


Arab states are usually not associated with democracy: especially oil exporting countries as GCC member states have rigid absolute monarchy regimes. The Gulf Cooperation Council has initiated several steps towards democracy, for example, improving the role of women in decision-making positions. However, in the region is that the majority of the people do not favor the most important elements of modern democracy, especially the separation of religion and state, and gender equality. The main feature of Gulf Cooperation Council member states is that they possess oil resources of world importance. Due to the oil aspect, the countries having absolute monarchy will probably remain so except Bahrain and Kuwait, which are executive constitutional monarchies. Despite the spreading of democratic principles all over the world and even Arab countries, it is not likely that there will be democracy in Gulf Cooperation Council soon due to peoples’ attitude, religion and oil exporting status.

Gulf Cooperation Council member states specialties

Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a regional international organization closed for new members. The organization was founded May 25, 1981. The events as the spread of communism formation, development of world oil markets, the downfall of the Shah’s regime in Iran of the GCC, Iran-Iraq war, and war in Afghanistan led to the formation of Gulf Cooperation Council.  The main purposes of the organization are coordination, cooperation and integration in all economic, social and cultural affairs. The relative regulation was in economic and financial matters; commerce, customs and communications; education and culture; social and health issues; media and tourism; in legislative and administrative affairs. GCC includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia. Yemen is negotiating to join the GCC since 2005. GCC countries have an absolutist monarchy, which has the monarch absolute power. The elected representative bodies are missing. The government appointed by the monarch and accountable only to him. GCC member give collective response and action towards preserving the rights of Arabs and Muslims and issues in the Arab world (Palestinian conflict and events in the Middle East). At the beginning of 21st century, the situation within GCC has changed: this region became more closed and integration permeated cultural, geographic, economic, and political spheres. Interestingly, the internal politics of GCC member countries put a higher priority on human and environmental issues.
The period of liberalisation in the Arab Gulf countries was spurred by changes in the financial markets during the 1990s and fluctuating oil prices, therefore, the political system opened. The changes were in holding regular elections, giving priority to human rights, granting political rights to women and increasing freedom of opinion and expression. However, democratic principles hardly apply to this region.

Arab world and democratic concepts

It would be a mistake to believe that concepts of democracy are too unfamiliar to the Arabs. They have not yet become universally accepted ​​only in the very slowly modernizing traditional patriarchal societies of the Arabian monarchies where is tribal patriotism and the cult of hereditary rulers-theocrats. However, the socio-political and ideological struggle begins to tear stronger Arab society at the turn of the century. This situation intensifies by outside intervention in a complex network of conflicts, contradictions and struggles of the various forces in the Arab world.
The brightest example of clashes within Arab world was the end of 2010 – beginning of 2011 that marked the take-off of social unrest in almost all Arab countries except Saudi Arabia and the “oil-producing” rich Gulf states (Abir, 2013). They have kept political stability. This growth of public consciousness known as “Arab spring” is certainly a new and important stage in the historical evolution of the Arab countries. It happened primarily due to internal socio-economic, political and cultural changes in the lives of the Arabs, who in the mid-twentieth century gained political independence that was fiction before (McCaffrey, 2012). The national liberation revolution 1952 in Egypt, 1954 – 1962 in Algeria, in 1958 in Iraq, 1962 in Yemen, as well as more recent revolution in 1969 in Libya and the Sudan, have opened these countries the path to progressive reforms and major changes in the economy and politics (Rizzo, 2005). However, not all these changes still can radically solve the main problems of the young states.

Democracy in the GCC countries

In the last decade of the twentieth century, the process of globalization accelerated and intensified, involving the Arab countries in the toughest way in the orbit of a comprehensive exposure to the Western powers (international trade regulation to the benefit of Western mechanisms of export-import, imposing Western standards in everything). There was an attempt known as the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) supporting efforts to promote political, economic, and social reform in the Middle East and North Africa including Persian Gulf states. However, GCC countries differ from the rest of Arab world; for example, Saudi Arabia officials remind US government that in case of making pressure on the country, the democracy will not be possible but ruling “in the spirit of the Taliban theocracy.” (Abir, 2013) Kuwait offered to give women the right to vote proposed by America, but Islamic fundamentalists in a democratically elected parliament rejected the head’s of the state initiative (Rizzo, 2005). Similar trends are in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria and Morocco, where monarchs take a more liberal position than the society they govern does (Abir, 2013). Any attempts to form a two-party system of Western model in the Arab world encounters the unwillingness of the political spectrum to come to an agreement, compromise, give the social-democratic orientation of the programs of political parties to overcome the corporate and bureaucratic context in the activity of the party in power.
One more reason is that the region having large traditional tribal societies finds it problematic to establish democracy because they cannot cope with modern political tendencies, economic trends, and the minorities’ rights as it happened to Saudi Arabia (Yamani, 2009). Bahrain has challenged reforms having high level of unemployment and the UAE’s has problems with an overdependence on foreign workers, the political issues associated with a federation, and inability to form a consensus for political reforms (From the Gulf Cooperation Council to the Arab Spring, 2012). Qatar faces domestic issues concerning its balance with global expectations, and Oman has a crisis of succession. Finally, the rate of women involved in the political arena is still low.
No GCC States (excluding Bahrain and Kuwait) have fully functional civil societies as a base for government policies that result in haltering legislation for economic diversification and political maturation. The GCC future will depend on how the monarchies cope not only with the political reforms, but also with complex socio-political challenges of adjustment to the forces of globalization. Thus, many GCC Islamic parties, not welcoming democracy, approved the idea of ​​the election, which gives them the opportunity to come to power and install a theocratic regime (there were elections in UAE and Kuwait). “The Arab Way” created a dictatorship, nurtures terrorism as inharmonious relation between government and society. The Arab should prompt legal changes in all spheres of public life in all countries of the Arab world. Currently, there is a number of inconsistencies between the legislation of the Arab countries and the international law. Many Arab constitutions contain specific provisions relating to freedom of religion, expression, participation in community organizations, and a number of restrictions on the freedom under the pretext of protecting national security and national unity.

Democracy and oil

American T. Friedman stated “The first law of oil policy, » which says: the price of oil is inversely proportional to the political freedoms and opportunities to strengthen democracy in the exporting countries (Friedman, 2006). This law does not apply to the UK, US and Norway, Azerbaijan, Chad, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela have it fully confirmed. The fluctuation of oil prices affects many aspects of life in the state.
Since the export of oil brings big profits, the state has the opportunity to reduce the tax burden. The huge profits earned by oil exports, used to strengthen government institutions so that they are always ready to give a fitting rebuff to democratic challenges. Affluent ruling elite finds strong centers in the community, as an association of entrepreneurs, technocrats and others disadvantageous. The ruling elite inhibits democratic aspirations, providing high wages to specialists, developing a network of universities that train such specialists, to be loyal to the regime later, as well as providing a high-quality urbanization.
Therefore, the oil aspect makes it almost impossible to make a transition from the Monarchy (Absolute monarchy) to Constitutional Monarchy (though there are executive constitutional monarchies in Bahrain and Kuwait).


In sum, GCC countries are not yet ready for democratization. Democracy in the Middle East in the near future is not possible. Democratic reforms will become possible here only after the liberation of social and individual consciousness from the influence of religion. The obstacle for democracy is the lack of a developed civil society, its institutions that could form a competitive market economic environment, absence of middle class establishing the state of democracy, expressing the consolidated will and interests of society to the state government.
The second difficulty is underdevelopment or absence of political system. The existing political parties arise in the absence of adequate social foundations and act without apparent attempt to present the actual structure of the needs and social interests. The focus on the principles of parliamentarism and constitutionalism is almost absent in these conditions, and individualistic approach predominates.
Thirdly, there is a bureaucratic power system along with the prevalence of the system of separation of powers in its structures. It remains nonetheless urgent question of the relationship of government activities and business communication bureaucratic and criminal organizations, corruption in the state apparatus.
Thirdly, the ruling regimes of nearly all oil-producing countries, especially |Islamic GCC states are non-democratic; the “degree” of authoritarianism varies depending on oil prices.
Democracy is a government of the people, who exercise it through their chosen representatives. However, the population of the Arab think quite differently than modern Europeans, Americans and Japanese. Moreover, modern Arab society based on tribal and clan-based values has not changed much in the last millennium, so it just not ready for democratic change. The Arab countries are suspicious of democracy because it is considered a product of the West.
Still, the Arab States try their best to distance themselves from the West, not only politically but also ideologically. The GCC has initiated some steps towards democracy, for example, there were discussions on the role of women in decision-making positions. However, the main dilemma in the region is that the majority of the people do not favor the most important elements of modern democracy, especially the separation of religion and state, and gender equality. Due to the oil aspect, the countries having absolute monarchy will probably remain so except Bahrain and Kuwait, which are executive constitutional monarchies now.

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