The Seventh Annual Gulf Studies Forum concluded work on Thursday 3 December 2020, addressing the twin topics of Sovereign Wealth Funds and Investment Policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council States and GCC Relations with Iran. As with the previous days of the Forum, the fifth and final day of this year’s round was conducted via Zoom and Arab Center social media platforms.
The fourth day, Wednesday, December 2, 2020 began with a session on relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran chaired by Suhaim Al Thani, with four research papers presented. Khaled Al-Jaber's “The Future of Gulf-US Relations in a Post-Trump Era,” detailed the background to this relationship since Donald Trump’s accession to the presidency in January 2017 and explored the possible resumption of negotiations between the United States of America and Iran on the nuclear issue, along with the implications of this for the security of the Gulf region. A second paper, by Nikolay Kozhanov, “Iran-US Tension and Gulf Energy Security” discussed the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (covid-19), the escalation of domestic problems inside Iran and the United States, and the ongoing confrontation between these states. Emad Y. Kaddorah’s third paper, “External Initiatives for Regional Security in the Gulf” explored two external approaches to the security of the Gulf region. The first accepts the reality of a region in which conflict and competition are spreading: alliances, maximization of military power and deterrence are seen to be necessary measures to ensure security and maintain the balance of power. The second considers that a framework promoting comprehensive security can be appropriate and that all parties can gradually agree upon a formula for sustainable security. The day’s fourth and final paper was presented by Mehran Kamrava discussing “Institutions and Policy in Iran's Relations with the GCC” and underlining how Iran's foreign and security policies towards GCC countries are subject to internal and external institutional restrictions. Foreign and security policy are the product of negotiations and settlements between three unequal power centers in Iran: the presidency, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Supreme Leader.
The day’s second session, devoted to Sovereign Wealth Funds and Investment Policies of the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries, chaired by Khaled Rashid Al-Khater, considered two research papers. The first by Yousuf Hamed Al Balushi, “The Role of SWFs in Promoting the Local Private Sector and Attracting Foreign Investment (the Case of Oman),” concluded that the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (covid-19) imposed on policymakers in various critical domains in the Arab Gulf the need for a different pace and approach to development: one necessitating a change in the economic model currently from one dependent on government and oil revenues, to one based on the private sector, domestic and foreign investment, national workers and production. The second paper was by Nizar Jouini and Hela Miniaoui, “Sovereign Wealth Funds and Soft Power: Political Economy of the Small Gulf States.” In presenting the paper Miniaoui noted that the Gulf states have used sovereign wealth funds in their various forms to contribute to economic development and promote social and economic growth. The huge investment of the UAE directed towards political allies such as Egypt and the United States of America, and increased Qatari investments in Turkey provide evidence that the small Arab States of the Gulf Cooperation Council can make ample use of the soft power of sovereign wealth funds to enhance their security and political stability.
The fifth and final day of the conference, Thursday, 3 December 2020 began discussing relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council states and Iran in a session chaired headed by Mahjoob Zweiri during which two research papers were presented. The first was by John Calabrese, “The United States and the Gulf: Trapped in Transition.” The paper illustrated how in recent years the United States’ mixed messages and policy fluctuations have provoked deep questions in Gulf states about its role in the region and the world, with discussions often remaining without resolution. The second paper of the session was by Zahid Shahab Ahmed, “Relations of the Cooperation Council States with Iran and the Pakistan Factor,” discussed relations between Pakistan and the Arab States of the Gulf Cooperation Council, from the perspective of the often conflicting relationship of these countries with Iran.
The Seventh Gulf Studies Forum’s closing session, chaired by Marwan Kabalan, returned to the subject of GCC sovereign wealth funds and investment policies, for which three papers were presented. The first, by Fahad Y. Al-Fadala and Mohammed Omar Batwaih was titled “The Sovereign Financial Assets of the State of Kuwait: A New Perspective.” Al-Fadala stated that their review of credit rating agencies’ financial estimates of sovereign wealth funds owned by the State of Kuwait showed that they had limited themselves to reviewing only two sovereign funds, namely the Future Generations Fund (FGF) and the General Reserve Fund, (GRF), and thereby had overlooked a group of sovereign investment funds owned by the State of Kuwait and operating in the local and international investment sector. Lorans Al Hennawi’s second paper “Gulf Sovereign Wealth Funds between Achieving Economic Transformation and Power Consolidation: The Case of Saudi Public Investment Fund,” considered Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s launch of an economic plan in April 2016 known as “Vision 2030,” incorporating creation of a Saudi Public Investment Fund as the largest sovereign fund until the year 2030 to diversify the economy in strategic sectors. Nabil Bouflih presented the third and final paper of the Forum, “The Adherence of the Gulf Sovereign Wealth Funds to the Santiago Principles of Governance: the Case of Abu Dhabi Investment Authority,” in which he examined the extent to which the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which claims to be the largest Gulf sovereign wealth fund and the third largest sovereign wealth fund in the world in terms of the size of assets, adheres to “Santiago Principles” – the generally accepted voluntary and non-mandatory principles and practices for minimum levels of governance in an investment framework of risk management. He pointed out that the Santiago principles were developed under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund, with the participation of all stakeholders, with the aim of reducing the concerns of countries hosting sovereign wealth fund investment.