The Arab states of the Gulf are often depicted as being almost entirely resistant to economic and political reform. With the exception of the UAE – and even there it is oil-poor Dubai that has captured global attention – the prevailing assumption is that oil and gas resources provide these states with an exceptional ability to resist popular pressure and ‘buy off’ their citizenry. The 2014 oil price fall, however, has brought this system into question, as the Gulf states struggle to meet spending obligations. “It’s time for the United States to start worrying about a Saudi collapse,” reads a Foreign Policy article from late 2015, noting growing fiss¸•ures within the royal family, missteps in their involvement in the Yemeni and Syria conflicts, intensifying antagonism with Iran, and declining foreign exchange reserves. In response to budgetary pressures, the Gulf states have renewed their focus on economic diversification. Major economic reform programmes have been announced in Kuwait and Bahrain, while Oman and Qatar have introduced new corporate taxes and all states, following the UAE’s lead, have cut energy subsidies and raised domestic fuel prices.
In light of a rapidly shifting Gulf strategic environment, we ask:
· Is Saudi Arabia going bankrupt? Which GCC states are most vulnerable to the oil price fall and changing regional dynamics?
· How will these states balance the competing priorities of social welfare with the fiscal cuts and other reforms necessitated by lower oil prices?
· Will economic pressures provoke the re-ignition of social protest as occurred in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Oman in 2011?
· What will the shifting economic dynamics mean for Saudi Arabia and GCC involvement in regional events?
Guiding us through this discussion on Friday, 27 May, will be Professor Abdullah Baabood, Director of the Gulf Studies Centre at Qatar University. Dr. Baabood holds a Master in Business Administration (MBA), a Master in International Relations (MA) and a Doctorate in International Political Economy (PhD) from the University of Cambridge. He has held numerous positions in academic and research institutions as well as business organisations, professional bodies and committees, including a long stint as the Director of the Gulf Research Centre – Cambridge at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include international relations, international political economy, and the economic, political, security and social development of the Gulf states and their external relations.
This Majlis session will be held from 11am-12pm on Friday 27 May at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University. If you would like to attend, please contact us for catering purposes.