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Abdullah Yaccoub Bishara

Abdullah Yaccoub Bishara

The Kuwaiti statesman Abdullah Yaccoub Bishara (born 1936) served as ambassador to Brazil and Argentina and as Kuwait's permanent representative to the United Nations for ten years before becoming the first secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperative Council in 1981.

Abdullah Yaccoub Bishara was born in Kuwait on November 6, 1936. He completed his primary and secondary education in Kuwait, then obtained his bachelor of arts degree from the College of Arts and Sciences at Cairo University (1955-1959). Upon his return to Kuwait he taught at al-Shuwaikh secondary school, from 1959 to 1961. Later he attended Balliol College, Oxford University, where he studied diplomacy and international relations.

Further study at St. John's University in the United States earned Bishara an M.A. degree in political science, after which he assumed his first diplomatic post, as second secretary for political affairs at Kuwait's embassy in Tunisia, 1963-1964. Between 1964 and 1971 he served as director of the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait.

Still early in his diplomatic career, Bishara was named Kuwait's permanent representative to the United Nations, where he served for ten years (1971-1981). As such, he participated in the U.N. General Assembly from 1976 until 1981 and was involved in all non-aligned conferences from 1971 to 1981. While serving in the United Nations, he was elected chairman of the Security Council in February of 1979 and represented Kuwait on the council for two years. Additionally, he headed several U.N. committees and was vice chairman of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Bishara headed the Arms Embargo Committee of the United Nations with respect to South Africa and contributed to the debate during 1980 and 1981.

His experience at the United Nations was recounted in his book entitled Two Years in the Security Council. In addition, several essays on political and economic issues written by Bishara have been published in English-language periodicals, and he delivered numerous lectures at American universities and organizations on the subjects of Middle East oil politics and the Persian Gulf. He maintained active membership in the Arab Thought Forum, based in Amman, Jordan. Bishara's diplomatic experience also included service as ambassador to both Brazil and Argentina from 1974 to 1981. Bishara assumed his responsibilities as secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had been formed on May 26, 1981, when the heads of six Arab Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman) signed an agreement in Abu Dhabi, establishing it as the first Arab collective cooperation pact. In many ways the idea of such a cooperative organization was emerging in the 1970s. In 1976, based on an initiative from Sultan Qaboos of Oman, the foreign ministers of Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E. met in Muscat, Oman, to discuss collective regional security and defense policy. The conference failed to come to any conclusions, but in the same year (1976) another attempt was made to arrive at an Arab Gulf consensus: Shaykh (Sheik) Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the ruler of Kuwait, who was at that time crown prince and prime minister, toured the Gulf countries to discuss joint action to preserve the Gulf's security in the face of political and economic challenges threatening this important area. As a result, Shaykh Jaber proposed the establishment of a Gulf union as an instrument for joint action, with the objective of achieving cooperation in all political, educational, economic, and informational matters.

While the genesis of the GCC lay in that Kuwait proposal, it would be five years before the idea became a reality. However, Kuwait's initiative and talks with the U.A.E. first led to the establishment of a joint ministerial council composed of the two prime ministers. Later consultations with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman also were successful. All of them endorsed the idea of establishing the Gulf Cooperation Council, which would have as its primary objective collective regional security. For the six governments concerned there was no difficulty in agreeing on the virtues of cooperation, but the necessary impetus to action was lacking. However, the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the rise of Khomeini's revolutionary regime in Tehran, followed by the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran war soon after, caused serious alarm in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf shaykhdoms.

Thus on May 25, 1981, shaken by the Iranian threat, the heads of the six Arab Gulf states met in Abu Dhabi and agreed to establish the Gulf Cooperation Council. The six signatories to the charter confirmed their efforts toward the unity of the Gulf Arab states and signalled their serious attempts to achieve coordination, integration, and close ties among themselves in all fields.

Abdullah Bishara's generation reached manhood in the mid-1950s. It was a tumultuous time for the whole Arab world, both the Mashreq (Eastern Arab world) and the Maghreb (Western Arab world). The Algerian revolution against French colonialists, the defeat of the Arabs in Palestine and the disaster that befell the Palestinians in 1948, and the Tripartite aggression against Nasser's Egypt in 1956 were all vividly remembered by the Arabs of the 1950s and 1960s. Arab youths attributed Arab suffering and defeat to Arab fragmentation and absence of unity at the state level. It should be remembered that the two important goals of the Arab countries in both the Mashreq and the Maghreb have been Arab unity and independence from the European colonial powers: France in the Maghreb and Britain in the Mashreq. As stated in Article 4 of the GCC constitution, the ultimate aim is unity; the GCC conforms with the national aims of the Arab nation as expressed in the charter of the Arab League. The GCC could be seen by its creators and its first secretary general, Abdullah Bishara, as a step toward those grand goals: Arab economic integration, complementarity, and political solidarity.

But while the process of regional integration in the Gulf was proceeding relatively satisfactorily, decisions regarding application of natural resources were still made on the individual state level: sovereignty was still a sensitive issue for both the people and the governments of the six Gulf states. The GCC, as a regional organization, did not have supranational power over its six member states. However, in the 1980s it was successful in building solid institutions such as the Gulf Investment Corporation, created in 1983 with a capital of $2.1 billion.

The most important political and economic achievement was dealt with in the Unified Economic Agreement (1983) for the free movement and equal treatment of goods, including the elimination of customs duties on domestically-produced goods.

The Gulf Cooperative Council represented both a model of development and unity in the Arab East and a working example of interstate cooperation of Arab states sharing a common language, religion, and history. There was ample evidence that the GCC provided a positive example for the two Arab groupings that followed in the late 1980s. The Arab Cooperation Council (ACC), comprising Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and North Yemen, was formed on February 15, 1989. Two days later it was followed by the establishment of the Arab Maghrebi Union (AMU), whose members were Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

The creation of these councils was a sign that the Arab world was awakening to the significance and new meaning of unity and economic integration. However, the Iraqi's invasion and occupation of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, redivided the Arab world. The other five members of the Gulf Cooperative Council sided with fellow member Kuwait, as did most of the other nations in the Arab League.

Shortly after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, U.S. troops were sent overseas to force Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait. In January 1991, Congress authorized the use of force, and battle began when Iraqi had not withdrawn by the deadline given them by the United Nations. The Iraqis fled Kuwait City on February 26, and February 28 marked the official cease fire of the Persian Gulf War.

Five years after the invasion of Kuwait, in a Radio National interview on October 5, 1995, Bishara commented on the effect of the war on the Kuwaitis. More than six hundred people were unaccounted for, and this had "frozen the life of a lot of people" who did not know if their relatives and spouses were alive or dead. Bishara did not classify Kuwait as a loser in the war. He stated that the country "obtained a lot, and triumphed in its adversity and tragedy." Also, according to Bishara, the fact that Kuwait depends on Saudi Arabia and the United States for security now does not mean that it has lost it independence, but rather "it's a fact of life that we came into this state of what they call 'interdependence."'

Further Reading

Additional information on Abdullah Bishara and on the Gulf Corporation Council can be found in John A. Sandwick, editor, The Gulf Cooperation Council: Moderation and Stability in an Interdependent World (1987); Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, Information Handbook (1982); Charter, Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, May 25, 1981, and the Unified Economic Agreement, Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, June 8, 1981, American Arab Affairs (Winter 1983-1984); Emile A. Nakhleh, The Gulf Cooperation Council: Policies, Problems and Prospects (1986); and Shireen Hunter, editor, The Gulf Cooperation Council: Problems and Prospects (1987). For more information on the Persian Gulf War see Otto Friedrich, ed., Desert Storm: The War in the Persian Gulf (1991), Norman Friedman, Desert Victory: The War for Kuwait (1991), and Majid Khadduri and Edmund Ghareeb, War in the Gulf, 1990-1991 (1997). Articles specifically addressing Bishara's role and beliefs are in Christian Science Monitor (January 29, 1991); New York Times (October 30, 1990); and Washington Post (February 4, 1991). Also see the Radio National transcript at <http://www.abc.net.au/m/talks/bbing/bb951008.htm>.

There are two publications by Abdullah Bishara available: "The Gulf Cooperation Council: Achievements and Challenges," American-Arab Affairs (Winter 1983-1984), in English, and Two Years in the Security Council (n.d.), in Arabic. □

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