‘Regional Integration Is a Catalyst for Prosperity’

Secretary general of Gulf Cooperation Council says scholars would benefit from in-depth study of multistate organizations.

GW Saudi Students Association President Rozana Saklou with Dr. Al-Zayani.
GW Saudi Students Association President Rozana Saklou with Dr. Al-Zayani.
September 30, 2016

By Ruth Steinhardt

Regional cooperation needs to be the subject of serious research and inquiry, the secretary general of the Middle East’s premier economic and political coalition said Wednesday at the George Washington University.

The Graduate School of Education and Human Development hosted His Excellency Dr. Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani, secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), to discuss the importance of regional integration to a prosperous and peaceful Middle East.

The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—all the Arab states of the Persian Gulf except Iraq. It was founded in 1981 during the Iran-Iraq war.

The idea of such regional cooperatives is fairly young, Dr. Al Zayani said, and little research on the subject exists.

“Regional integration, I feel, has not been studied in depth,” he said. “I would like to encourage scholars…to take this into consideration.”

When he was first nominated as secretary general of the GCC, Dr. Al Zayani said he tried to research the nature of regional integration, but found mostly theoretical models. When he tried to find information about how to manage such regional organizations, he was stymied.

“I didn’t find anything,” he said. “I read about the European Union model, but that does not apply to our region. There are so many regions that are integrated or have similar arrangements, but they are not identical.”

Regional organizations like the GCC and the EU are crucial to global stability not only because they improve conditions for member countries, Dr. Al Zayani said, but also because their economic and social benefits can translate outward.

“Regional integration is a catalyst for prosperity,” he said.

A well-educated and entrepreneurial population can export innovations to the world, for instance, Dr. Al Zayani said, and establishing a secure region helps establish “a more resilient globe.”

Security and resilience, he said, are particularly difficult to achieve in the Middle East.

“Violence still continues in our region,” Dr. Al Zayani said. “We look at the GCC as a garden surrounded by fire, a rock of stability around which turbulence flows.”

The Islamic State—the terror group also known as ISIS or Daesh—is a major threat against which the GCC are aligned, Dr. Al Zayani said. “I assure you, Daesh will be defeated,” he said firmly. “We are working on it. The question is when.”

But there are other roadblocks to a stable Middle East. “The situation is worse than it used to be,” he said.

“Terrorism is not limited to Daesh,” Dr. Al-Zayani said. “There is state-sponsored terrorism, there is transnational terrorism and there are sub-states and organizations and even individuals. We need to take care of all these challenges.”

In addition, he continued, surrounding states face challenges other than or tangential to violent extremism.

“Syria needs a political solution,” he said. “The situation in Iraq we all know. In Libya, violence still continues with no political solution on the horizon. In Yemen we’re still working, though I’m optimistic that a solution will be found. Iran continues to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries and still preach exporting revolution. The Middle East peace process is all but dead. And there are more complications.”

Integrated regional alliances are the best way toward resolving those complications, Dr. Al-Zayani said, especially in an economy on the brink of change.

“We have to prepare for life after oil,” he said.