The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held a joint conference on “Identifying Drivers of Political Reform in the GCC” in Beirut on November 15 and 16. This was the third meeting dealing with political reform in the GCC countries organized jointly by the two institutes.

The meeting was attended by researchers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Lebanon, Europe and the United States.

The discussion focused on several potential drivers of political reform: political actors—both leaders and organizations advocating reform; new political institutions, above parliaments and elected local councils; the economic transformation taking place in many countries, with the subsequent change in the educational and demographic structure of the population, as well as the growth of new interest groups; and the impact of new ideas and debates to which the population of the region is increasingly exposed through mass media, particularly satellite TV. The conference also evaluated the role of external factors—both the impersonal impact of economic globalization and the direct efforts at promoting reform by the United States and the European Union.

The discussion highlighted the fact that the political transformation in each country is driven by a number of the above factors, with some factors being more important in some countries and other factors in other countries. For example, parliaments are important drivers of change in some countries and dormant in others, ideological debates are also more influential in some cases than others. In general, participants agreed that there is no automatic, simple causal connection between economic and political transformation and that internal factors are more important drivers of change than external ones.