Would this have been a consequence of the Red Tide which has afflicted the coast of Oman for months?
Video by Sonia Ambrosio from iNewsit.
Arrangements for the summit were well in train before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Mumbai is uncomfortably close to the Gulf. A story appeared in The Hindu Business Line of 7th December, of an Omani youth being arrested in Goa. Apparently, he had been browsing al-Qaeda content in an Internet cafe. Not speaking English, he was alleged to have been browsing Arabic language sites. It transpired that his visit visa had run out.
The Israeli assault on Gaza overshadowed the conference. An AFP report suggested that Saudi Arabia had rejected a follow-up meeting of Gulf presidents to discuss the situation in Qatar next week, as merely a "summit of statements" and therefore a futile gesture.
It's not surprising that the AGCC leaders would not be tempted to be over-eloquent in condemning Israeli action and supporting Hamas. Hamas grew out of the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the late 1960s. The Muslim Brotherhood is a banned organisation throughout the Arab world, notably in Egypt, where its members have been branded as terrorists. Ironically, "much of Hamas's funding came from Palestinian expatriates and private donors in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Persian Gulf states."
Although the Muslim Brotherhood, which is committed to Islamise societies and introduce sharia law, professes non-violence, al-Qaeda has "historical and ideological affiliations with the Egyptian Brotherhood."
Gulf Monetary Union
Monetary union of the Gulf currencies was the projected theme of this year's conference. Agreement was reached. All the technical work had been done before the leaders met. So news of the new currency's name, the 'khaliji', and of the date by which monetary union would be enacted, December 2009, were in the public sphere before being ratified by the AGCC leaders.
A Gulf monetary union and common currency would enable the Gulf economies to become independent of global economic pressure caused by being pegged to a fluctuating US dollar, on which the price of oil is based, or so the theory goes.
While correcting a broken link in this article, I came across another story which chimed with my own perceptions:
The years of difficulties, delays and doublespeak suggest that there is more chance of Bahrain winning the football World Cup in 2010, than there is of you or I being asked to settle a bill in khaleeji, or whatever Gulf leaders elect to name the currency.Single currency? Meh!. If that link gives up working, look for the title on Arabian Business dated 17th December 2008.
Oman withdrew from plans to join the monetary union in 2006, saying that its economy was not ready. Not only that, Minister for National Economy, Ahmed bin Abdul Nabi Makki, again confirmed this week the Sultanate's view that the region itself was not ready for monetary union.
HM Sultan Qaboos bin Said al-Said's opening remarks to the conference, calling for a mechanism to stablise oil prices, emphasises that Oman believes efforts would be better devoted to broad international discussion of economic conditions.
Only the monetary union is to be launched in January 2010. Decisions on the single currency and the location of the Gulf Central Bank require further discussion.
Both Oman and Kuwait cut their interest rates in December, following Federal Reserve rates, even though interest rate cuts can worsen inflation. Oman's inflation rate did fall to 13.4% in September 2008, just 0.3% less compared with the inflation rate in August.
The Muscat Declaration
The summit concluded with another Muscat Declaration.
"the Sultanate praises the decision of the AGCC ministers responsible for environmental affairs, in granting a periodical award in the name of the Arab Gulf Cooperation Council for outstanding environmental activities. The award aims to raise the level of environmental understanding and awareness among the peoples of the region, and to encourage individuals and institutions to research, create, and innovate in order to devise suitable solutions for contemporary environmental issues."His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said is going to pay for this award.
More details emerged in stories published by the Times of Oman. Statements were agreed regarding
- increasing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea
- membership of the Yemeni Republic at the AGCC Standardisation Authority and Gulf Organisation for Industrial Consultancy, the AGCC Auditing Authority and Gulf Radio and TV
- Withdrawal by Israel to pre-1967 borders
- the UAE's right to islands in the Gulf currently occupied by Iran
- tricky one this - importance of abiding by international principles and resolving dispute with Iran by diplomatic means
- keeping the region free from nuclear weapons whilst reserving the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes
- the necessity of maintaining the sovereignty, territorial unity (note) and independence of Iraq.
A communiqué issued at the end of the two-day summit strongly condemned the “painful events in Gaza and the destruction inflicted by the brutal Israeli military without any human consideration or legitimacy”.In addition, the summit agreed to the establishment of a "basic statute of the AGCC anti-drugs criminal information centre due to be established in Qatar" and congratulated Bahrain on the security measures it had taken during recent disturbances. In general, the attendees confirmed that it was essential to share information to combat terrorism. Full details in the Times of Oman.
I hope the journalists had a great time while staying at the Muscat Intercontinental Hotel where they were treated to an exhibition of books published in the Gulf countries. Most of the books were apparently in Arabic.
All in all, as one has learned to expect from AGCC summits, nothing emerged which was likely to be beyond polite interest. Officially that is.
Free Trade Agreements
The Oman-USA FTA came into force on 1st January 2009, which many believe will mean an influx of American companies bidding for work, protected by the FTA rules. Apparently, US exports will become less expensive in Oman. Does that mean that the streets of Muscat will be flooded with American rather than Japanese or German cars? It's naughty I know, but I can't help imagine Muscat becoming a haven for all those cars and SUVs that the distressed American car industry hasn't been able to sell back home.
Labour agreements signed between India and Oman in November were presumably a precursor to full implementation on the labour rules' side.
Not such good news for the Gulf's trade agreement with the European Union. "General-secretary of the GCC, Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, announced suspension of negotiations [in mid-December 2008] until further notice. He stipulated the EU signing a draft accord as a condition for resumption of talks." Bur a free trade agreement with Singapore was agreed at the summit.