H.E. Maj. Gen. Abdullatif Rashid Al-Zayani, the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, gave the keynote address during the opening session of the 2012 Gulf Research Meeting outlining the goals and policies of the GCC during a time of particular turmoil in the critical and strategic Gulf region. Highlighting the tremendous events that have impacted the Gulf during the past twelve months, H.E. Al-Zayani stressed in particular the challenges of sectarianism, the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict, employment challenges in the Gulf, as well as the security of energy supplies.
In the end, however, the GCC has shown that it is more unified than ever and increasingly aware of its international responsibilities. This was made particularly clear in the case of Yemen where the GCC ministerial council met 11 times in eight months in an effort to resolve the Yemen political impasse in 2011. Fully aware of the tribal context of Yemen politics, the GCC was able to put forth key principles that allowed for the main political actors involved to make the necessary compromises. Thus, the GCC initiative represents a successful case of mediation leading to a peaceful resolution of the Yemeni crisis. H.E. Al-Zayani further highlighted the principles of trust, transparency and respect as key elements as well as the key role played by the GCC leaderships behind the scene in moving the situation toward a solution. Drawing lessons from this example, the Secretary-General mentioned the need for all parties to stay the course and not to go back to challenge the already agreed upon principles. Finally, he stressed the neutrality and impartiality of the mediator. A question left open is whether the example of Yemen can be repeated and whether regional resilience can be seen as a key factor. Moreover, while the mediation phase was successful, the current implementation phase shows that still a lot needs to be done in order for the current success to be turned into a permanent one.
Following his address, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Prof. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, spoke to the audience by highlighting the strong relationship between the university and the GRC as well as the strong support provided by the University of Cambridge for the Gulf Research Meeting. As such, the GRM has become one of the largest meetings of scholars on the region focusing on the special challenges that the Gulf faces. This at the same time shows the need for further collaboration at the institutional level especially between universities and institutions of higher learning. The issues talked about during GRM are not only issues for the Gulf but for Cambridge as well according to the Vice-Chancellor.
In addition to the GCC Secretary-General, the chairman of the Gulf Research Center, Dr. Abdulaziz Sager, thanked all participants and underlined the importance of the GRM as a main gathering of scholarship and study of the Gulf region. The fact that close to 500 participants gathered together is an important indication of the growing network that GRM provides. Dr. Abdullah Baabood, Director of the Gulf Research Centre Cambridge, opened the proceedings by highlighting the growth of the GRM since its beginning in 2010 with 19 workshop happening ranging in subjects as the Impact of the Arab Spring and its impact on the GCC, to Gulf Energy Challenges, to Youth Employment Strategies for GCC governments, to Visual Arts and GCC-Asia as well as GCC-Latin American relations.
Dr. Yasir Suleiman, Director of the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge, moderated the discussion with the GCC Secretary-General focusing on some key issues such as Syria, the possibility of using mediation to resolve the political situation in Bahrain, the challenge emanating from Iran, to the future of Gulf Union and GCC expansion including whether Yemen is more likely to join than Morocco or others. The Secretary-General highlighted the fact that in Bahrain one cannot exclude the issue of foreign interference which has complicated matters. But a process initiated by the King of Bahrain is in place that now needs to be given time. On expansion, H.E. Al-Zayani stated that Yemen is already a full member of 13 GCC committees while for Morocco other strategic issues play a role. Integrative steps have been taken and progress has been achieved but proper integration also requires sufficient time to grow together more naturally and evenly.