Emerging geo-political and geo-strategic trends in Middle East: A Case Study

Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

Right now most part of the Middle East is swinging between the highly projected notions of spring and autumn. Spells of hope and desperation are going side by side in many countries in the region. Diehard supporters of status quo and jubilant prompters of revolution are at tug of war in the region. Think-tanks and tanks are fighting for survival against each other. People’s protest and marital power is staggering to dominate. Bullets are being brutally used to stop the transition of ballot.

Egypt is at transitory stage. Syria is bleeding. Jordan is under transformation. Sudan is divided. Yemen is burning and struggling for political stability and national harmony. Libya is brutally attacked by the NATO-Allies. The waves of change have already produced serious dints in the socio-economic plans and physical landscape in the region. Morocco has already started its journey towards popular democracy. All these complicated socio-politico incidents show people’s dreams of better life in the days to come.

Middle East the land of unlimited prophecies and pharaohs is again in search of new Moses to sail it from the shores of geo-political uncertainty and geo-strategic worrisome situation to the holy land of peace and harmony. Incidents of territorial division, grand reconciliation process, aggressive foreign policy implementation and giant step towards democratization have been emerged with a new meaning, framework and hope throughout the Middle East.

In this research oriented case study all above mentioned geo-political trends and geo-strategic emerging bitter realities will be scrutinized and analyzed. The case study will confine to United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Morocco and Jordan for achieving better chances of conflict resolution and prosper future in the Middle East.

1. Federal National Council (FNC) Elections 2011

United Arab Emirates is once again creating sound and healthy traditions by holding the Federal National Council (FNC) elections in the country. It will be contested on September 24, 2011. Middle East where people are struggling for achieving democracy, the UAE plans for further democratization is a bold and right step.

The comparative study of all the ancient political systems of people participation, beginning from walled system of Greece, Pax Romanum of Roman Empire to early Islamic Rashidun Caliphate selection unearths that main aim of governance system is to deliver the good for the common people. It also upholds that governance system must be free from any political dogma, societal stigma, and economic barrier. Democracy is not a fairy tale or queen of happiness, keeping by which one succeeds to achieve socio-economic prosperity. Take the example of China, Brazil, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar where so called highly projected Western Styled democracies are not at work but still these countries have achieved high levels of socio-economic prosperity and sense of security. The so-called democratic countries of the West were responsible for the ongoing global economic recession and financial crunch and the countries mentioned above are the sign and hope of survival for the whole world.

It is hoped that FNC elections in the United Arab Emirates would be a prominent landmark in the process of development and modernization drive. The general response is electrifying and urge of electoral participation is manifold. This development has helped to raise the number of voters to more than 80,000, representing all sections of the UAE. It is hoped that this number would likely to go up in the future.

The major expansion of the electoral colleges for the FNC elections in 2011 confirms the commitment of the UAE leadership to further promoting political participation and to empower the Federal National Council. The success of the first elections in 2006 created strong awareness and knowledge among UAE nationals, especially on the concerns and processes related to political development. It has helped in further highlighting of the UAE’s vision to expand the number of citizens in the electoral colleges.

Statistical Comparison (2011)

Table-I

Gender breakdown of electoral colleges UAE Percentage %
Male 69,283 53.6
Female 59,991 46.4
Total 129,274 100.0
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

Table-I shows the level of women empowerment and active participation in the electoral process and gradual democratization drive in the UAE.

Table-II

UAE Specification Total
National Population 974,997
Total Voting Population & Registered Voters 129,997
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

UAE Electoral College by age-group

Table-III

Age Total
21-24 18,728
25-29 31.452
30-34 27.686
35-39 17.992
40-44 13,182
45-49 8.962
50-54 6479
55-59 2722
60-64 854
70-74 353
75-79 205
80-84 130
85 and above 139
Source: National Electoral Commission, UAE

Table-III reflects the different age group and its total tally in the electoral process. Highest participation falls in the age group of 25-29 years. It accounts for 24.4 per cent of the members. The 30-34 age group holds the second position 27,686 members, or 21.4 per cent. The under-40 group carries 74.2 per cent of the membership. There are 130 eligible voters in the 80 to 85 group and 139 in the 85 and above group. Both groups account for approximately 0.1 per cent of the Electoral College each.

UAE Electoral Colleges by in each Emirate

Table-IV

(a) Abu Dhabi

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 404,546 41
Eligible Voters 47,444 11.7
Male Voters 22,952 48.4
Female Voters 24,492 51.6

Table-V

(b) Dubai

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 168,029 17.2
Eligible Voters 37,514 22.3
Male Voters 19,713 52.5
Female Voters 17,801 47.5

Table-VI

(c) Sharjah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 153,365 15.7
Eligible Voters 13,937 9.1
Male Voters 7237 51.9
Female Voters 6700 48.1

Table-VII

(d) Ajman

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 42,168 4.3
Eligible Voters 3920 9.3
Male Voters 2391 61
Female Voters 1529 39
Table-VIII

(e) Umm Al Quwain

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 17,482 1.8
Eligible Voters 3285 18.8
Male Voters 2212 67.3
Female Voters 1073 32.7

Table-IX

(f) Ras Al Khaimah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 91,592 10
Eligible Voters 16850 17.3
Male Voters 10,378 61.6
Female Voters 6472 38.4

Table-X

(g) Fujairah

Particulars Total Percentage of Population
Population of UAE Nationals 64,860 6.7
Eligible Voters 6324 9.8
Male Voters 4400 69.6
Female Voters 1924 30.4

The comparative study of the above tables (IV-X) shows that Abu Dhabi has the highest number of eligible voters i.e. 47,444, which makes up a modest 11.7 per cent of the total national population in the country. The overall gender ratio of Electoral College members is slightly in favour of men at 53.6 per cent. It also verifies a vast improvement in the women participation from the last elections 2006 when women constituted just 17.8 per cent of the college.

The highest gender disparity in favour of men is in Fujairah, where women account for just over 30 per cent of Electoral College members, followed by Umm Al Quwain, where they make up just under one-third of the members. Abu Dhabi was the only emirate to have a disparity in favour of women, at 51.6 per cent which is a positive sign.

UAE Democratization Drive

The FNC elections-2011 reflects a sprouting and historic phase in the political outlook of the UAE. It also testifies the vision of President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Since its independence 1971, the UAE has been honestly working on the institutionalization of true and simple democratic norms in the country. The UAE government adopted the principle of selecting half the members of the Federal National Council through indirect elections in 2006. The recently initiated legislations have amended some provisions of the Federal Supreme Council’s resolution No. (4) of 2006 concerning the method for selecting representatives to the UAE Federal National Council. Accordingly, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued Federal Law No. (2) of 2011 amending some provisions of the UAE President’s Resolution No. (3) of 2006 concerning the method for selecting representatives to the UAE Federal National Council.

Objectives

(a) Broadening the base of popular participation in the elections by increasing the number of members of the electoral body.
(b) Greater people’s participation in the political system and decision making.
(c) Strengthening greater reforms in every sphere of governance, politics, civility, economics and legislation.
(d) Empowering the Federal National Council (FNC) and activating its positive role, so as to provide support to the executive.
(e) Supporting greater empowerment drive in the country.
(f) Strengthening of political and social development by preserving social and economic prosperity.
(g) Strengthening the belief among the public that the UAE will precede on this path carefully and gradually.
(h) Mitigating the negative perceptions recently projected in the Arab world.
(i) Further enhancing the UAE political and legislative stability essential for a sustainable development model.
(j) To foster relations between the rulers and to be ruled.
(k) Enabling women to perform their roles and interact within the Council and by extending the Council’s term to four years.

Secretes of Political Philosophies and History

The political philosophy and history of the modern democratic systems reveal a conflicting reality and favours gradual and rationale changes in the governance systems. Shock-therapy, most of the time bring disastrous consequences and encourages upheavals in the countries. Eastern Europe is the classic example of it. Whereas, gradualism and rationalism always brings desired goals of socio-economic prosperity and security. UAE, Qatar, Uzbekistan, and China are the prime examples in this regard. Usually first comes the macro-economic stability and societal cohesion than surfaces political system.

Respect for local talent, indigenous wisdom, traditions, customs and special circumstances ought to be pivotal for onward march towards democratization. No system is perfect. Every system has its pitfalls. Main purpose of any governance system is to deliver and free from any gender, racial and ethnic discrimination and the United Arab Emirates upholds the true spirits of humanity, survival, production, cooperation, social justice and above all welfare spirits. It has already set high standards of stability, tolerance, modernity and cultural identity in the region. So, UAE is on right path and going towards a greater public participation by holding elections 2011.

FNC Evaluation

The experience of the previous FNC was successful. It discussed at least 33 important national issues and projects. The UAE Government approved 70 draft law amendments introduced by the Council, and responded to 200 questions raised by members of the FNC. The representation of women in the Council was over 22 per cent of the total members, reflecting the strong participation of women in the public and political spheres and the active role they play in shaping national dialogue. It passed a crucial public debt law, amended consumer protection legislation and rigorously worked on improving the country’s electrical grid and health services.

Historic Perspectives

There were 7,757 Emiratis, 6,595 men and 1,162 women turned out to vote in 2006. In elections 2011 that would be a nine-fold increase from 2006. Now the legal minimum number of eligible electors is 12,000. In the last elections in 2006, 63 of the 452 candidates were women but only one was elected. However, the 40-member council included nine females in total, because they claimed eight of the 20 appointed seats.

The 40-member FNC currently has the authority to debate and amend laws, question ministers and discuss the annual federal budget, but not to initiate legislation. Half of the FNC’s members are appointed by the rulers of the seven emirates, while the other half are chosen by an electoral college who is chosen by the rulers.

FNC Current Composition (elected)
(2006)
Emirates Total
Abu Dhabi 8
Dubai 8
Sharjah 6
Ras Al-Khaimah 6
Fujairah 4
Ajman 4
Umm Al-Quwain 4
Total 40

It comprises 40 members, with eight members for both Abu Dhabi and Dubai emirates, six members for Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah emirates and four members each for Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah. Half of the members are elected, while the other half is appointed as per the decree from the President. The term of membership is four years with effect from the first session. Eligible voters can only vote for candidates in their own emirate. The FNC is not a legislature, but it is evolving as an advisory body. The 20 election winners, along with 20 members selected by the Rulers of the separate emirates, will be able to present their ideas to the UAE’s highest decision-makers, in what is in some ways a modern form of the traditional majlis.

FNC Composition (will be elected)
(2011)
Emirates Total
Abu Dhabi 4
Dubai 4
Sharjah 3
Ras Al-Khaimah 3
Fujairah 2
Ajman 2
Umm Al-Quwain 2
Total 20

2. Saudi Arabia’s Aggressive Foreign Policy

Diplomatic surge is at its peak in Saudi Arabia. Emerging geo-political and geo-strategic trends has forced its leadership to play a contributory and supportive role in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Middle East region. It extended its financial support to many countries in the GCC and MENA. It offered its diplomatic support to Sudan, Egypt and even Yemen to reach at any amicable solution.

Saudi Arabia’s joint venture with UAE to help Bahrain by sending troops in recent times has changed the security dynamics of the region. It encouraged strategic expansion of the GCC by allowing Jordan and Morocco to join the GCC-6. All these proactive endeavors of Saudi Arabia have succeeded to create strategic equilibrium in the region.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign Policy Comparative Study

Right from the beginning Saudi Arabia has been following neutrality and passive foreign and regional policies. The Yemen War in the late 1960s, the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the last but not the least the Camp David Accord with Israel in 1978, Saudis have always been keen to keep a low profile in the regional power politics. Even the Iranian revolution in 1979 could not change its foreign policy strategic priorities.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 brought drastic change in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy and it pledged to support the Afghan Mujahideen to expel the invaders. The Iraq-Iran war 1980 established, Saudi Arabia’s mediatory role in the regional power politics. Saddam Hussain misadventure to Kuwait 1990 forced Saudis to request for international force to intervene and defuse the tensions. In 1990s, Saudi succeeded to play stabilizer role in the region through the Syrian-Egyptian-Saudi tripartite axis.

The 2000s brought tremendous changes in its national priorities, regional commitments and international vested interest. The tragic episode of 9/11 and the US invasion in Iraq (2003) and afterward military engagement in Afghanistan (2002) raised levels of discomfort and disharmony between the USA and Saudi Arabia. The leadership of the Saudi Arabia introduced “Dialogue between the Civilizations” for achieving greater peace and harmony in the world. Now during the ongoing so-called Arab Spring the Saudi Arabia government initiated meaningful policy measures and adopted a more predominated role in the region which showed its displeasure.

Saudi Arabia leading role for the protection of Bahrain national sovereignty was the paradigm shift in its regional as well as foreign policies. It had far reaching regional geo-political and geo-strategic repercussions. Self-defence is the best defence and disharmony among the friends always brings destruction. In case of Bahrain the government of Saudi Arabia filled the power vacuum and conveyed a strong message to infiltrators to stay away from any misleading posture.

Moreover, the successful operation of the Saudis in Bahrain reestablished its leading position and status in the GCC and the Middle East region. It is hoped that it would create a new balance of power in the region.

Most recently divergence levels between the Saudis and the Americans widened again on the issue of Palestine. Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the US warned the US against vetoing the proposed Arab bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September 2011. He was of the opinion that such a move would have disastrous consequences on the US-Saudi relations. He promised to extend all political, moral and diplomatic support for a Palestinian cause. King Abdullah initiated the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002 which called for an end to the conflict based on land for peace.

Saudi Arabia’s extended Financial Support

Recently, the King Abdullah’s announced US$130 billion (Dh477.45bn) package in the country which hopefully will bring greater socio-economic prosperity and welfare. Saudi Arabia is also extending financial assistance to the GCC states. 3 million barrels of oil to Yemen of worth some $300 million; $10bn promised to each of Bahrain and Oman; $4bn to Egypt; and $400m to Jordan shows its larger commitment towards the prosperity, integrity and collaboration with the GCC and MENA region.

3. Bahrain’s Grand National Consensuses

In recent times Bahrain one of the important country of the GCC states confronted multidimensional geo-political and geo-strategic issues. Series of serious initiatives such as national dialogue, parliamentary reforms and people’s participation in the decision making were taken. Now, Bahrain’s king approved parliamentary reforms, granting more powers of scrutiny for the elected lower house. Many effective monetary incentives were also announced. A pay rise for civilian and military government employees was also announced. Many mega projects of socio-economic welfare were also tabled.

Massive political unrest had raised concerns in the GCC states. Bahraini government reconciliation drive succeeded to pacify the violent opposition and its move has struck a positive note region-wide.

4. Morocco’s paradigm shift

Morocco is the potential country to become the member of the GCC-6. In recent times, the King Mohammed VI ceded more power to the parliament and the prime minister. It was giant step towards democratization in the country. Referendum was conducted for constitutional reforms and majority of the people voted (98 percent) for change in the prevailing system of governance. It would provide Prime Minister a wining edge over the King. The purposed constitutional reforms promised to ensure the rights of women and non-Arabs, including the country’s large Berber population. However, control over the army and foreign intelligence services would rest with the king. The monarch would also retain his traditional role as the country’s highest religious authority. The major parliamentary opposition parties, including the main Islamist party, endorsed the constitution.

Regional Change Models

Country Nature Outcome
Egypt Revolutionary change Government falls but no substantial change surfaces.
Tunisia Revolutionary change Government falls and promises are made for better life.
Libya Use of violence Brutal tussle for power and survival still go on.
Syria Use of violence Marital force is fiercely confronted to massive protesters.
Morocco Peaceful change 98 percent of the people support the constitutional reforms

Regional political scientists called it miracle while international strategists labeled it eyewash. People termed it silent revolution and junta supported it as timely rescue. Researchers welcomed and conceived it good for regional democratization drive. Power brokers projected it as anti-status quo and provoking to regional stability. Let’s wait and see the outcome of these constitutional reforms.

The comparative study of the Moroccan political system endorses that previously King had absolute authority to appoint anyone as the premier. But by giving the people the right to vote for or against the proposed reforms, Morocco has gained wide-ranging international support from the United Nations, the European Union and the United States. Nevertheless, it provides golden opportunity to the people of Morocco to work jointly for the peaceful transition to political reform.

5. Significant change in Jordan

Recently, Jordanian King Abdullah’s announced relinquishing power to appoint cabinets and the prime minister and it was a major shift towards a new political system in the country.

Before the announcement After the initiated change/reform
King had the authority and power to take decision on cabinet and appointed prime minister. Now Jordan’s political parties will decide the formation of cabinets and appoint the prime minister after elections.
Authoritative decision making Greater political participation and devolution of power at grass root levels.

Jordan has some 33 political factions which are expected to regroup and form political blocs in the days to come. It would streamline the political representation in the country. With the promised political reforms on the horizon, this may occur sooner than later. It seemed to be a right and positive step in defusing any political frustration and societal alienation.

It is hoped that meaningful political change in Jordan would be a new era in the country as well as in the region. It would also give political parties a sense of ownership and greater responsibility.

Concluding Remarks

Change in Middle East is real, drastic and significant. It carries hope for better future. It guarantees greater political participation of the common people in the development process. It upholds a progressive development model which consists of stability and sustainability with gradual change towards democratization drive. It protects greater civil liberty, human rights and social justice for the marginalized communities.

It is one of the bitter lessons of the human history that use of naked force always brings desperation, division and destruction in societies. Reconciliation, conflict resolution and political reforms bring desired integrity, solidarity and peace.

The Middle East the land of sacred shrines and shinning stars of today imperialism drive, hub of diversity, dignity and hope of ongoing global economic recession is under transformation. Hopefully the Middle East will be again “Promised Land” for all the humanity in the days to come.

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