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The GCC in the Mediterranean in light of the Arab Spring

28/06/2012, Rome

The conference, organised and hosted by IAI, in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund, took place at Palazzo Rondinini on June 28. The meeting focused on the changing role of the GCC in North Africa. The first session of the conference was dedicated to political and economic cooperation between Gulf countries and North Africa, while the second session concerned the implications for the transatlantic community.

In the first session, the discussion focused on the emerging relations between the traditional and untraditional political actors in the Gulf and North Africa. The collapse of the ‘wall of fear’ brought about by the so-called Arab spring was accompanied by an important generational shift, as well as a potential displacement of cultural and political influence spanning from the Gulf to North Africa. It was argued that this transfer would lead the GCC to maintain unity on traditional issues, namely Iran and Palestine, but not as much on emerging crises, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or Yemen. Drawing upon these remarks, it was stressed that the GCC, and Saudi Arabia in particular, is adapting and reacting to events taking place in North Africa, specifically in Egypt. This reaction is moulded by considerations on the Gulf’s regional power and interests, as well as its internal vulnerabilities and increasing inward focus. This region has indeed been influenced, albeit to a lesser degree, by the same processes that led to the collapse of authoritarian regimes in North Africa. It is trying to react to these events by strengthening their internal security in order to ensure regime survival.

Also discussed in the morning was economic cooperation between the GCC and North Africa. An analysis of the causes and outcomes of the Arab Spring shows that, as of today, there is a worsening of economic conditions, including rising unemployment and poverty. Hence, GCC investments in North Africa would benefit both parties in light of the existing complementarities between the two regions. In the Gulf, it would bring an important contribution to revenue diversification. It was also noted that investment opportunities are emerging for the GCC not only in North Africa but in Sub-Saharan Africa as well.

The afternoon session was dedicated to the implications of the Arab Spring for the transatlantic community and explored possible areas of cooperation. It was noted that the Arab Spring’s nature makes it less likely that multilateral cooperation will develop in the near future due to the increased fragmentation of the region. Hence, an increase in bilateral agreements is more plausible than the establishment of a coherent framework for multilateral cooperation. Bearing this in mind, a participant presented the idea of a “motivational fund” as a financial mechanism of consistent benchmarks and goals for countries dragging their feet or in transition. However, other participants expressed doubts about the feasibility of such a fund due to a lack of leadership and strategic vision for the region. Discussion later covered potential areas of collaboration between the EU and the GCC in light of the global financial crisis and the Euro crisis. The situation in the West has produced a shift in its approach to GCC’s capital; in exchange for the latter, the EU could provide the large security umbrella currently lacking in the Gulf. It is clear that the potential for cooperation among the EU, the US, Turkey and the GCC regarding North Africa is available, but the conditions for its fulfilment are still precarious and the political will is lacking.