The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit currently under way in Muscat will have the usual subjects to discuss. Foremost among them will be security. However, border disputes are to be set aside as the focus will be primarily on issues of convergence rather than divergence.
However, it should be noted by even the most cynical observer of GCC affairs that the member countries have made notable strides in forming a cohesive unit.
The cynic might note dryly that the past decade and half of "cooperation and coordination" have failed to churn up an EC model. More so, they point out to a lack of basic understanding on such issues as the customs union, tariffs, trade flow and a host of others.
They expect that these 15 odd years would have solved the plethora of existing issues.
Nevertheless, in all honesty one can state that the Gulf Cooperation Council by the very fact that it has been able to weather many storms and emerge unscathed has achieved respectability and has shown the way for other Arabs to follow.
But patting ourselves in the back, as we usually are prone to, is not enough. The summit should look at larger issues that are of immediate concern. Focusing on security, a military deterrent and preparedness is all right. At the same time, the deeper social issues should be researched and solutions brought forth in order that social chaos may not prevail.
The economic structure of the Gulf needs to be re-evaluated. A hard look at existing and proposed projects should be made to remind us that the days of grandiose projects are over. We should be "lean and mean."
If we talk of economic integration we should strive for a total economic cooperation where each state will gain from the other.
While encouraging competition, industries and businesses in the region should provide a united front against stiff competition in a free and challenging world.
The GCC countries, by virtue of a similar environment, face almost the same problems - the threat of pollution, the dangers to the environment, water salinity and logging. Water supply is going to be a major problem. What is going to be done about it? How are conservation plans going to be implemented? What resources including research are going to be pooled together? All these concerns require quick and logical approaches.
A social problem that will rear its head as we approach the 21st century is that of unemployment. The number of unemployed nationals is on the increase while the number of visas for foreign workers is on the rise.
It is time that technical expertise is needed. However, what have the educational authorities done to help diminish this problem? We speak of ourselves as a high-technology society. Yet a national can't even fix his tires!
All these issues are different. However, they are connected by a social thread to break. We should be frank and be bold enough for a self-appraisal.
It is no use for our writers and media persons to just go on hailing and praising. Yes, what the Gulf Cooperation Council has achieved in this period of time is commendable. At least we don't need visas to travel across the borders of the six member states. We do feel at home. There is certain comradeship. That feeling is growing by the day.
But the journey is not over yet. The road has just begun. We need to travel and be prepared to do so. With the new millennium just round the corner the governments and the people of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries should take a hard look around.
They should not be afraid to take lessons from those countries that have surpassed us in growth. Not only Japan and Korea should be studied but also countries such as Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore should be viewed as models. We can learn more from the East than from the West.
Progress cannot be achieved by words. Unless we instill in ourselves and our future generations ethical values and a sense of hard work we cannot reach the forefront.
The Gulf Cooperation Council should not be viewed as a society of consumers. It is important that we also produce.
In the light of all this the social and economic issues to be discussed at the summit will be of prime importance in charting the region's course ahead.