GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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State-Religion-Minorities Tensions in the Arab Gulf
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper will start by highlighting some key points for the workshop’s theme, for example, presenting the GCC countries, their development, regional groupings they are part of and why do we need to assess the dynamics of the relation state-religion. The following section will deal with the importance of religious figures, religious groups, especially groups that can shape policy, signalling the involvement of religious minority groups in the process. It will highlight how controversial the definition of minorities alone can be, not to mention that a certain socio-political climate existent in an area with a strong religious ethos backed by rigid Sunni readings of Islam will not necessarily be supportive of religious pluralism. We encounter a peculiar situation, being the area in the world that received such an influx of foreign migrants so that the native population is the one in the minority. This makes this case particularly challenging from the minority rights’ law perspectives.
As described by Alanoud Alsharekh,all six states of the GCC share an Arab Muslim identity with a tribal core and entrenched family loyalties that extend beyond a singular sheikhdom, and whose leading families consider them as cousins. The tribe to which these families belong is the oldest surviving organisational institution in the Gulf societies, as it appeared before institutionalisation according to Islam. The adherence to unwritten tribal rules and customs (generally referred as urf) is still common and reigning in the GCC even in the 21st century. It is a space where kinship and family ties are valued at its best. No matter how drastic the changes of the growth due to oil revenues and the great influx of foreign workers were, the features of traditional tribal organisations and emphasis on patrilineal descent are still anchored in the society, posing problems to creation of a strong state apparatus.
The GCC possess a significant share of the world’s oil and gas reserves and includes some of the world’s fastest growing economies, and this transforms it into an important regional grouping. At the same time, it takes pride in valuing traditional concepts with respect to the religion and organisation of the society. As a result, there is a challenge to benefit equally as a non-citizen or as a person not sharing the same ethnicity, family ties or religion. We can add to this existent layer the fact that many ethnic and religious conflicts colour the region. The notorious conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslim reverberate even in the Gulf countries and to a lesser extent there is a certain difficulty when professing Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism or other denominations. The majority-minority relations in the Gulf have the potential to get tense as they have done notably in Bahrain in recent months.
It seems that on both political and economic fronts, the family, the tribe and kinship generally both hinder and help in shaping a unique system that some see as essential for self-preservation in a setting where natives are minorities (numerically speaking) in their own countries. The only exception is Saudi Arabia, where the native population can still reach almost 70%. We can also note that Bahrain has a population of non-nationals rising to over 40% amongst the working age population, and does not exceed the number of nationals. All these elements have to be examined, keeping in mind the importance of the religious component, starting from prominent religious figures, clergy, going to religious forms of jurisdiction and schooling.
Furthermore we can build an analysis of the performance of the governments when they describe citizenship status, look at whether it is discriminatory or not, and what role is played by Islam when we report to citizenship rights. There will be an emphasis on constitutional law and the construction of the legal system in order to assess the opportunity for distinctive religious groups other than the mainstream ones to manifest their beliefs. The discrimination usually endangers a peaceful coexistence of religious groups; therefore it can endanger a solid state edifice.
All of these facts which are specific to GCC make the area interesting for an assessment of the development of national institutions, governance, citizenship, and the relation with religion. Since religion is strongly embedded in the culture and Islam is the predominant one it seems unlikely to imagine a leeway for the religious minorities to enjoy themselves according to their free will. Then the question is how the high number of foreigners will be adapted to the existing conditions. It also demonstrates somehow that the traditional approaches to state-society relations in the Arabian Gulf have proven faulty to capture the socio-political realities of the region.
All in all, international law prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion and socio-economic grounds and the GCC countries committed to a number of international documents in this sense. This paper will try to capture more than aspects of international law and relations (they will be in high relief definitely), but it will try to depict the socio-cultural facet in these “young states” that are experiencing rapid development. It will be an attempt to reconceptualise legal, political, social tensions and challenges in this dynamic, multi-layered arena of state-religion relations in the Arab Gulf.