!The story of Gulf Development Forum

24 feb 2016

Almost  36 years ago, a number of Gulf citizens from Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman, young and energetic, freshly graduated from mostly Western educational institutions decided to have an independent, unofficial study group, non-profit and private. The idea was to study issues facing the Gulf countries, and that hindered them from the opportunity to achieve sustainable development, and to try to draw up some sort of suggestions regarding what those societies were facing in the economic and social spheres.The body was called “the Gulf Development Forum”.
It now still meets annually, and the latest meeting was in Bahrain. The topic was “Water and Development in the GCC countries”.The group has been financed by those individuals who are members, and they commission from among themselves, a number of members to write, under a certain topic, a paper or more. They convene a meeting of no more than two days, to discuss and comment on those issues. Later, the proceedings are published in book form.
The numbers of books produced by this forum so far comes to around 20, and the papers which have not been published in a book form, come to around 35. All of those studies are now available in the form of books and papers, in a digital form, on the website which has been built to that end, under the name http://www.df.ae .
The yearly meetings are held in Manama, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha. Throughout those years, a growing body of literature has been accumulated, on subjects such as the economy, the future of oil industry, population and human capital in the Gulf Countries,water supply and water scarcity, education, violence in modern Gulf societies;security, the prospect of unity, and many other topics. These were all discussed in these forums in a scientific manner. All this work has been entirely voluntary, the individual paying for their accommodation and travel, and contributing a very small fee for general expenditure.
Usually they organise an in-house election to select nine people to be a steering committee for the coming year. Over the years this body has attracted interested men and women to enhance the development of their countries. The good thing about this gathering of the Gulf Forum is that it is voluntary and that it became the first so-called ‘think tank” for the region, even before the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) itself, of course with no strings attached.
The time that has elapsed and the efforts that have been made for all those long years, and the number of new people from the new generation mean something important. It means that the active Gulf people from all Gulf countries are an economic and social entity, and they face very similar problems, and need to get tougher to solve them in a world getting more and more close- forming groupings of countries in almost every corner of the world.
The Gulf Forum, through its relatively long years, has attracted probably the best minds in the region, people who later on became undersecretaries or even ministers in their respective countries. All of them have brought with them new ideas which were distilled from the meetings of the forum.
An interesting thing is that it seems there have been past two phases at least. The first few years were preoccupied with the notion of “development” and relevant subjects, and later on it became wider, expanding its area of interest to begin to look at“citizenship”, political participation”, civil societies, the GCC development and even the medium term future of the Gulf. Under the title of ‘Gulf 2015’- one proceedings was published as a book, and was widely circulated to the extent that it was reprinted twice.
To some, the forum’s existence means in a way the emergence of “Gulf Intelligence”. In a number of meetings the papers discussed the topic of “Regional relations”basically between the Iranians and Turkish-and the foreseen positives and negatives were deeply debated in the meetings. The future of the GCC was also of wide interest to the participants. Women’s issues it has shared as well.
Unfortunately, this serious study and effort has not been seen much by either Arab researchers, and definitely not by non-Arab researchers, although it carries in its publications a lot of reliable, genuinely useful information,written independently, and based on facts and personal experience.
A good number of studies were devoted to answer what appear to be serious question, and that is: ‘Are we using the oil revenues in order to create sustainable development in our countries or not?’This issue created a lot of discussion, and the outcome of those discussions could be of a historical value for new generation of the Gulf countries.
It has shown, without doubt that this generation was really concerned for the wellbeing of the coming generations, and it clearly mattered to them what course of development the Gulf states would take. Some of the founding fathers of this forum have passed away. They were the spearhead of the ideas. Some are still with us, still living and producing.
We should thank them by introducing their pioneering work to the public, especially to those who until now do not know about it. It would be good to at least inform them that long before the modern think tanks sprang up around us here in the Gulf there were people who took it upon themselves to work hard voluntarily for what they believed in- the well-being of their society.

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