The 7th Annual Gulf Studies Forum continued to address Sovereign Wealth Funds and Investment Policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council States and GCC Relations with Iran, via Zoom, for second and third consecutive days.
The Gulf Studies Forum’s work on Monday, November 30, 2020 began with Hind Al-Miftah chairing the session on the topic of sovereign wealth funds and GCC investment policies, and considering three research papers. Khalid Shams Muhammad Al-Abdulqader presented his paper “GCC Sovereign Wealth Funds: Experience and Wealth-Maximizing Strategies,” examining the importance of sovereign wealth funds and the role they can play in improving key economic indicators in the economies of the GCC countries that own them. Nayef N. Alshammari then presented his paper “Sustainability and Challenges of Investment Policies for the GCC Sovereign Wealth Funds,” discussing the role of sovereign wealth funds in Arab Gulf states as a non-oil investment resource that can strengthen national economies and contribute to achieving stability and economic development. With sufficient government will, he suggested, political and economic reforms in the Gulf countries can promote financial and investment programs beneficial to economies, consistent with sovereign wealth fund goals of diversifying sources of income. Completing work in this session, Sara Bazoobandi presented her research on “Sovereign Wealth Funds and National Visions of the Arab Gulf States: Consolidation of Institutions and Accumulation of Assets,” examining the history of sovereign wealth funds over the past two decades, and underscoring their impact on the transfer of knowledge and technology.
On the theme of Gulf Cooperation Council – Iran relations, the day’s second session chaired by Yacoub Al-Kandari saw three research papers presented. Mohammad Ghnem Al-Rumaihi presented a paper on “GCC - Iran Relations: Foundations and Future Prospects,” featuring an analysis of Iranian foreign policy and the responses of Gulf Cooperation Council states to it. He stressed the need to examine in depth the background to Iranian-Gulf relations as a basis for an objective perspective on the future of these relations, without ritual recourse to slogans. Gawdat Bahgat then presented the second paper “Iranian Foreign Policy from Ahmadinejad to Rouhani” comparing and contrasting the two administrations in terms of drivers of Iranian foreign and defense policy; he noted that Iran's foreign policy, like that of any other country, reflects a mix of ideological orientation and leaders' perceptions of national interests. The third and final paper by Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar “Iran's Foreign Policy after Rouhani” analyzed the dynamics of Iran's Middle East policy during the era of President Hassan Rouhani, also assessing its possible course after the upcoming presidential elections in 2021.
The Forum’s third day of sessions got underway on Tuesday, 1 December 2020 with Abdullah Baabood chairing Shireen Hunter’s Public Lecture on “The Impact of Systemic Factors on Iranian-GCC Relations”. In her lecture, Dr. Hunter examined the relative influences of systemic regional and international factors on the dynamics of the relationship between Iran and the Arab Gulf states, considering the inter-Arab context, the impact of Israel, the role of transformations in the international order, and the policies of the great powers. She concluded that these systemic factors have often had a negative impact on relations between Iran and the Gulf states, especially in the post-Soviet era, with a uniquely hegemonic United States attempting to reshape the Middle East through the use of military force.
In the third day’s session on sovereign wealth funds and investment policies of the GCC, chaired by Ohood Al Bulushi, three research papers were presented. The first by Faisal Hamad Al Monawer, “The Governance of Sovereign Wealth Funds in the GCC Countries: A Proposed Model,” explored a conceptual framework for sovereign wealth funds and their governance. He proposed a practical model for governance of SWFs as something needed urgently to protect Gulf SWFs from corruption and to enhance their performance. Julien Maire, Adnan Mazarei and Edwin M. Truman then presented their view of “Sovereign Wealth Funds of the GCC Countries: Governance and Prospects,” focusing on results emerging from the 2019 scoreboard – the fifth such “scoreboard” of key SWF indicators. They observed that average GCC scores on the scoreboard have improved over time but remain lower than those for 54 other SWFs and lower than those for non-GCC SWFs that derive their financial resources from oil and gas or other sources. Tamara Kamhawi Schulz’s paper “Gulf SWFs: Towards Cultural Governance” closed the third day’s sessions. Her paper highlighted the realization by oil-rich Gulf states, during the price boom in the early 2000s, that SWFs could become powerful tools to mobilize political and social support at the national and international levels. At the same time, she noted past examples of SWFs making media headlines for reputed lack of transparency, political agendas and self-interest, such that today Gulf states are keenly aware of local and international calls to create an internal governance framework for SWFs meeting national cultural expectations while adhering to international standards.