By Mohammed Kazim (@MAKazim)
Although politics has never been my cup of tea, there have been few incidents over the past few weeks that made me feel obliged to address an issue of relevance to our region. In light of the current events in the Arab world, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have witnessed many different opinions arise on the need for social and political reform. Mainly driven by global media, these opinions seemed to lack an important element since they all brought forth ideas that have been designed for peoples and places other than ours. These ideas, I believe, could be detrimental to our nations’ stability, development, and overall welfare.
So what can be done to address this? The ruling families of the GCC region have all in one way or another responded by forms of generous stimulus packages (increased salaries, increased benefits, subsidies, education scholarships, and increases in budgets for healthcare, education, and services). Albeit, a wonderful short term solution for earning citizens’ loyalty, in the long run this could affect the GCC’s development and ability to compete internationally while still not targeting the main issues. While many reasons exist for the spread of ideas that are not tailored to our dynamics, in my opinion, the main reason is the reduced involvement of GCC citizens’ in managing their affairs. As with every nation, certain policies or political decisions can act against the interests of a few. In the absence of involvement in these decisions, certain groups may feel left out.
In the past, elected tribe leaders would make sure that citizens’ concerns are communicated clearly to the ruling families through clear and simple access routes. However, with the development of society and the detachment of families from the larger tribal structure, that tribal system may have became slightly inefficient. Not all information is accurately captured and conveyed to the ruling parties. In addition, due to the lack of a structured opinion voicing system that is clearly defined as a citizen’s right, many citizens are hesitant to voice their concerns. This could be because of fear, pride, social norms of modesty, and many more reasons.
I believe that the system previously in place may still fit the current GCC societies provided certain factors are tailored to the newly evolved social structures of the region and that the citizens take a more responsible approach in conveying their concerns. The following 2 points are brief suggestions.
First, GCC countries could begin institutionalizing congregational structures into official bodies that represent the people in certain localities rather than tribal affiliations (i.e. areas within cities such as Jumeirah, Adliya, Olaya, etc). The representatives of these bodies do not necessarily have to be elected by the people and can be appointed by the ruling parties. However, they should be responsible and accountable for conveying the concerns of people within their areas. GCC Citizens need to have access to these official bodies defined as a right that can be practiced should they desire to and they should be educated in matters pertaining to this right. This is currently being done at a less organized level. Some GCC countries have begun hosting radio talk shows that manage the daily affairs and act as a body for conflict resolution. Other GCC countries have established publically elected bodies but access sometimes is still restricted or difficult.
Second, GCC citizens need to be civil and maintain some basic principles in conveying their concerns to the people who manage their affairs. Some principles are so basic and generic and are even defined as Islamic principles such as: adherence to the governing law, respect and diligence while conveying information, offering criticism and advice secretly and with respect rather than publicly, and having patience. Furthermore, I believe GCC citizens should try and make the best of the current channels available to them and take a more pro-active approach rather than ridicule or complain aimlessly.
In addition, I believe that public figures and religious scholars can facilitate the creation of a handbook of guidelines that explain the manner of ideal communication, and advice people on the correct channels to voice their concerns.
In summary, although I am not a political expert, I have offered my observations based on my keen interest on society. I believe that if GCC countries allow citizens to have the right to voice their concerns through efficient institutions by locality and GCC citizens take a more responsible approach in doing so, many concerns will be heard and addressed if possible. This would reduce the amount of open-ended bad-mouthing or extreme foreign opinions from arising in society and in turn would maintain our nations’ stability, development, and overall welfare.
Mohammed’s bi-monthly column aims to openly and honestly target issues around the native culture, society, religion, economy, and policy that have resulted as a consequence of the constantly changing demographics of the region. The column is characterized by a point-like articulate approach that gives the reader a comprehensive understanding of the discussed issues.