Public Policymaking in the Arab Gulf Countries: Reality and Challenges

22 December, 2022

The ACRPS has published Public Policymaking in the Arab Gulf Countries: Reality and Challenges, by multiple authors and edited by Marwan Kabalan. The book (372 pp.) includes a bibliography and general index. It is made up of ten chapters that address a set of issues related to methods of governance and administration in the Arab Gulf states and associated public policies. It begins with the growth of interest among states of the region, since the 1980s, in developing infrastructure, educational institutions, and healthcare facilities and modernising legislation and regulations related to investment, especially in the public sector; this inclination dominated the thinking of Gulf states since their emergence and deepened with the oil boom, in light of welfare policies that were adopted and as part of the attempt to weaken the restrictions imposed on society by traditional structures to accelerate the modernisation and development process and construction of state institutions.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, the book discusses policy issues and aspects related to education, the economy, the environment, and development. It also sets aside research space to address the role of society in public policymaking, offering an analysis of its challenges and an assessment of its outputs.

Education policies

Today, when comparing between the crisis-ridden universities of the Arab Gulf states and universities looking to the future, it is both shocking and frustrating how great the difference is between universities hoping to keep pace with scientific revolutions and universities that produce scientific revolutions. The former strive for change and are engaged in a constant battle with structural problems, while advanced universities are absorbed in crafting the future. Gulf universities, no different from their Arab counterparts, suffer chronic internal unemployment and face a state of crisis that continues to deepen and intensify.

Legally subject to reproducing the status quo, the universities of the Gulf states have been completely unable to impact their societies. Today, they are called to create a kind of change in themselves and address their endemic corruption; they must rehabilitate themselves and overcome their structural issues to be able to play their part in the cultural leap in society. To do so, these universities must examine the reasons for their decline and deconstruct the variables that caused their historical ineffectuality before they can begin to move their societies forward.

Future studies indicate that traditional universities will become obsolete; those that do not adapt will not survive. Thus, the authors argue that the time has come for core academic freedoms to be entrenched and for these universities to be transformed from large schools into research institutions concerned with knowledge production first and foremost. Moreover, it follows that any attempt to advance higher education must be comprehensive and include all universities and institutions.

Labour policies

Social policymaking, especially labour policy, is complicated in the Gulf states due to perennial structural challenges, such as the rentier state model which is based on the concept of redistribution of hydrocarbon (i.e., oil and gas) revenues. Since mid-2014, fluctuations in global oil prices have subjected the sustainability of this model to critical investigation, and government policy responses must account for their citizens’ perception of the privileges they have enjoyed for decades as lifelong natural rights.

Current political and security challenges have tightened restrictions on social policymaking in the Gulf states, exacerbated by the war in Yemen and the 2017 crisis which contributed to the Gulf arms race. The book identifies the variables that have recently impacted Gulf labour policies, with focus on social inclusion and exclusion through a comparative perspective on Qatar and Saudi Arabia, respectively.

The authors offer evidence of social exclusion in the Saudi context through the imposition of new taxes on immigrant families and on private sector companies that hire immigrants, sparking critiques that the government is not exploring ways to increase revenues given falling oil prices and instead demanding that immigrants cover the costs of growing military expenditures. Because of the complex political climate around social justice and the stratification system in Gulf states, the authors indicate that the results of social integration in Qatar and exclusion in Saudi Arabia are based on key trends in the policies of both countries.

Environment and climate change policies

Gulf states should benefit more from integrating the goals of their national development policies with nationally determined contributions (NDCs), which over time would lead to the design, implementation, and evaluation of more effective programmes characterised by social, economic, and environmental flexibility. Because the economies of the Gulf states revolve around fossil fuels that pose serious environmental dangers, the authors argue that it may be useful to increase the mutual influence of NDCs and long-term development projects. Further, it may be beneficial for economic diversification policies to incorporate environmental goals more comprehensively when crafting development plans and programmes.

The overlap between NDCs and development visions remains limited, as the key components of these long-term plans have not been addressed within the environmental priorities of the NDCs. Moreover, the sectoral policies that Gulf states have chosen to highlight in their NDCs represent merely a narrow, secondary set of development visions, which seems to contradict the tendency that says Gulf states will attempt to strategically deploy environmental contributions to promote social and economic transformations that are likely to keep pace with their environmental commitments. There are likely many practical reasons that most of the goals of Gulf states’ national development policies have not been merged with their NDCs, which tend to be brief and lacking in detail. As a result, Gulf states may intentionally focus on the priorities of their environmental contributions in sectors they believe will attract global attention (e.g., renewable energy) or those based on technology transfer to facilitate the implementation of their commitments.

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