A group of Gulf academics and nationals has initiated a petition calling for citizen participation in the political decision-making process in all of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, amid a major ongoing rift that has resulted in several Gulf countries severing ties with Qatar.
Addressed to GCC leaders and policymakers, the petition, which began circulating on social media platforms on Saturday, has gained more than 500 signatures from academics and individuals across the Gulf region – a figure the initiators say has exceeded expectations.
“Recent events have proved that the people of the region are aware enough and insistent on becoming a part of the decision-making process and determining their own fate,” part of the petition reads.
The signatories state it is time to implement a democratic process that grants “ordinary citizens a bigger role in determining their fate”.
The petition comes after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and other smaller countries severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar last week over claims that it supports “terrorism” in the region – allegations that Qatar has denied.
The Gulf nations cut off sea and air links with Qatar, and have ordered Qatari nationals to leave their countries. They also urged their citizens to return to their respective nations, disrupting the lives of thousands in the region and restricting their freedom of movement.
Sanctions have also disrupted food and other imports into Qatar. The dispute has threatened the future of families with mixed citizenship and has been condemned by various rights groups including UK-based Amnesty International.
One of the petition writers and key initiators, Qatar University PhD student Esraa al-Muftah, told Al Jazeera that the petition calls for the “immediate cessation of any actions that lead to the escalation of the situation and which the impact the ability of people to move and freely reside within the GCC states.”
She added that GCC citizens were concerned, as they had “no say in the ensuing events” that are currently affecting the lives of people and families across the region.
The petition also includes long-standing grievances that some analysts believe to be the primary cause for the GCC crisis. Lack of popular participation and the lack of effective political and economic integration between the GCC nations have rendered the people’s parliaments futile, the signatories told Al Jazeera.
A Saudi female signatory, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the petition is calling for unity that goes beyond the dispute.
We came to the realisation that such arbitrary and extreme actions would not be taken so quickly and carelessly if ordinary citizens were involved in the decision-making and political process.
“Nations intervened and governed on behalf of people who are unaware of the underlying reasons of the dispute,'” she told Al Jazeera. “We’re calling for the activation of parliaments across the GCC, including the Shura council – institutions that have been largely inactive.”
According to Muftah, among the petition’s objectives is activating the GCC council in a manner that enables real integration and unity among its countries “through effective democratic institutions”. It seeks to remedy the “chronic issues” in the region that have remained unaddressed for decades.
Established in 1981, the GCC, a regional political organisation, comprises Arab states in the Gulf, with the exception of Yemen. Its member states are monarchies who have common economic objectives.
In addition to including democratic elections, says Muftah, the call for popular participation includes the implementation of a democratic constitution.
“We are conscious of the different historical trajectories of the countries of the GCC and the variation within them regarding implementing such steps, and so we take account of that but maintain that it is an issue that needs to be addressed in all the countries in order for their citizens to have a say in deciding their destiny,” she said.
Another initiator, Kuwaiti national Awad al-Mutiri, told Al Jazeera that the signatories were “alarmed and shocked by the diplomatic crisis”.
“We came to the realisation that such arbitrary and extreme actions would not be taken so quickly and carelessly if ordinary citizens were involved in the decision-making and political process,” he said.
Asked whether the petition called for democratic elections, Mutiri said: “A freely elected parliament, which truly represents citizens, would not vote for such measures when considering the effect that they would have on their constituencies.”
“These measures would have been most likely either rejected by an elected parliament or at the very least more diplomatic and subtle measure would have been taken to resolve any issue that arose between the GCC countries,” he added.
Initiators hope that this will shed light on public opinion within the GCC, directing the countries into the “right direction” by introducing political reforms.
The petition has no limit and is open to everyone across the region, regardless of age, profession, or gender.