Rusi – Derasat Conference: Regional Realities of Gulf Security and Transregional Concerns

The conference debated a number of critical aspects to Gulf Security and its impact on UK-Bahrain-GCC relations for the future.

The preliminary program discussed:

US-UK-Gulf security arrangements.

Sectarian tensions in Iraq and Syria and their implications to the region.

Managing Iran.

Regional political development and the impact on defense cooperation.

Political Islam.

Political mobilization, the role of the media and social media.

The two-day conference comprising six panel discussions covered a broad yet critical array of topics ranging from regional political development, sectarianism to political Islam and the social media, designed to foster debate and dialogue and to facilitate understanding of Gulf regional developments. Attendance from a broad range of GCC and international academics, politicians, diplomats and security personnel gave discussions and debates a truly global perspective.

The keynote speeches represented the full scope of the conference program with HE Sheikh Rashid bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, the Interior Minister of Bahrain,setting out Bahrain’s current security climate and HE Dr. Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the GCC,speaking ofthe developing GCC relationships. Vice Admiral John W Miller presented information on the US Navy Central Command and the Combined Maritime Forces stationed in Bahrain regarding regional security and this was followed by an address by HE Samira Rajab, member of the Shura Council in Bahrain, who highlighted the role of the media and social media. The opening session was chaired by HE Dr. Muhammad Abdul Ghaffar, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Advisor to the King for Diplomatic Affairs and Dr. Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Studies at the Royal United Institute (RUSI UK).

The proceedings are summarized below (please click here for program):

Session 1: US-UK-Gulf security arrangements today and tomorrow

Chair: Dr. J. Peterson (Historian, Political Analyst, USA)

Speakers: Prof. Jeffrey R. Marcis (U.S. Naval Academy), Dr. Mohammed Alkatiri (Conflict Studies and Research Centre, UK), Dr. Noman Mohammed Galal (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bahrain)

The panel discussed contemporary U.S. and U.K. security arrangements with the Gulf Cooperation Council(GCC) states and made references to historical friendly ties. It was affirmed that both the U.S. and U.K. understand the importance of the region and continue to develop partnerships with GCC states by conducting joint military drills, provision of military arms and to develop regional strategies.The panel further stated that Western powers fully comprehend their role in the Gulf’s military balance. The U.S., in particular, has been supportive of the GCC states in developing inter-state interoperabilityregarding security matters and will further stress the importance of a unified GCC approaches. It was also conveyed thatthe U.S. and the U.K. will continue developing closer partnerships with GCC states. The recently proposed missile defense shield is seen as another step to further develop U.S. security relationship with the GCC states.

Session 2:The regional political development process and its impact on defence cooperation

Chair: Dr. Omar Ubaydli (Derasat)

Speakers: Amb. Luigi Narbone (European Delegation to Saudi Arabia & Gulf States), Dr. Rolf Schwarz (NATO HQ), Dr. Ashraf Kishk (Derasat)

The panelists and participants discussed European Union (EU) and GCC relations and how to mutually enhance its benefits. The EU was referred to as a model for the proposed Gulf Union and, as such, the EU could provide valuable insight to further realize this objective. The GCC can also be viewed as a source of investment for EU states that could enhanced by signing the long-awaited Free Trade Agreement between the two regions. NATO acknowledged the role of the GCC to its own collective security and recognizes that the GCC states are not only consumers of security but also providers. Some GCC states are major non-NATO allies and NATO’s experience can prove useful in developingcloser security ties among GCC states.

Session 3: Political Islam: debating the significance of a resurgent ideology

Chair: Dr. Jonathan Eyal (RUSI UK)

Speakers: Prof Jeffrey Haynes (Center for the Study of Religion, Conflict and Cooperation, UK), Dr. Abdulkhaleq Abdulla (UAE University), Souad Mekhennet (Der Spiegel/ New York Times)

The panelists agreed that Political Islam has emergedas an influential regional trend for the past 25 years. The panel also acknowledged that Political Islam is diverse in its form. Its impact has increased following the so-called Arab Spring, where its legitimacy has acquired popular consent through elections in the Middle East &North Africa (MENA) region.Due to the presence of external actors within MENA, political Islam can no longer be viewed in isolation when considering developments within the region.

Session 4: Sectarian tensions in Iraq and Syria and their implications on the entire region

Chair: Souad Mekhennet (Der Spiegel/ New York Times)

Speakers: Dr. Baqer Alnajjar (Bahrain University), Dr. Laurence Louër (Centre for International Research and Studies, France), Dr. Bashir Zain Al Abdin (Derasat)

The panel discussed how sectarianism may be developed to serve political aspirations. The panel suggested that following the Arab Spring, rising sectarian trends have been a subsequent regional outcome. The panel also attempted to assess theon-going crises in Syria and Iraq and to determine their implications on GCC states.

Session 5: Managing Iran: aspiring leader, determined rival

Chair: Dr. A.K. Pasha (Jawaharlal Nehru University)

Speakers: Prof. Şaban Kardaş (TOBB University, Turkey), Anwar Abdulrahman (Alakhbar Al Khaleej, Bahrain), Dr. Nevine Mossaad (Cairo University)

The panel discussed Iranian relations with different countries within MENA and the GCC. Iranian regional perspectives were contrasted with other notable actors; following the Arab Spring this contrast has been accentuated.It was argued that sanctions on Iran, which will take effect on July 1 2012, will constrain developing nations dependent on Iranian oil. Iran is,of course, wary of the regional growth of a missile defense network. It is expected that the proposed Gulf Union will act as a regional balance to Iran.

Session 6: Trends in political mobilization: how states and non-state actors are using the media and – and social media – to engage the public

Chair: Nancy Jamal (Derasat)

Speakers: Fadi Salem (Dubai School of Government), Dr. R.S. Zaharna (American University), Sawsan Al Sha’ar (Journalist/Author, Bahrain)

The panel presented statistics indicating that Arab women are currently more engaged socially than before and that the use of social media is on the rise in the GCC states. The Arab Spring was generally not considered a social media revolution. Social media has emerged as a new arena of contention, and altering perceptions is the main objective. Social media has become a mindset and factors in the process of information diffusion that eventually leads to decision making. The panel suggested that social media is now a standard in communication strategy that cannot be overlooked. The panel also assessed the growing presence of non-state actors in Middle East politics and their increasing role in local affairs of various GCC states.

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