Arab world: Next GCC secretary general should be a woman, activist says

Gulf News

Naming a woman as the next secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will solve the standoff between Qatar and the other GCC states over the name of the next official for the top post, a Saudi activist and columnist has said. “Since there seems to be a crisis that is likely to prolong over the name of the top official, the possible solution I see is to choose a female secretary-general with a high academic and diplomatic profile. I do not think that selecting a qualified woman will cause opposition since there are many women who have recently held high political positions,” Hatoon Al Fassi, an expert on women’s rights and a columnist with a Saudi newspaper, wrote.

“There is a high number of women in all the Gulf Cooperation Council countries who meet these requirements. Many of these women have held regional posts and have won international recognition for their aptitudes and distinctions. Choosing a woman will be a political addition to the credit of the Gulf states and a new step towards reforms and the integration of women as partners in the decision-making process. It will also be a confirmation of women as citizens equal to men in their political and economic rights,” she wrote in Al Riyadh daily.

Hatoon, an assistant professor at a university in Saudi Arabia, has been championing the rights of women in the Gulf to elevate their social, political and economic status.

Few Gulf women have been able to overcome prejudices in mainly conservative societies to reach leading positions.

Bahrain’s Shaikha Haya Bint Rashid Al Khalifa made history in June 2006 when she became the first Arab and Muslim woman to head the United Nations General Assembly.

Hatoon’s call for a female top GCC officer secretary general came less than one week after the GCC summit issued a communiqué without naming the next secretary general of their six-member alliance.

The GCC leaders said that the next secretary-general would be a Bahraini national, but did not mention the name Mohammad Al Mutawa, the candidate officially nominated by Bahrain last June.

Al Mutawa, a former information minister and the current cultural advisor to the prime minister, had the endorsement of Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Only Qatar did not publicly support his nomination, sparking an array of speculations that it wanted to prolong the term of the incumbent secretary general, Abdul Rahman Al Atiyyah, a Qatari national who has been in charge since 2002.

However, hours before the summit opened on Monday, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shaikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani said that Doha did not have any objection to the nomination of a Bahraini candidate as the GCC secretary general.

“The State of Qatar always welcomes the participation of all brothers in the GCC and of the Kingdom of Bahrain in particular. It is time for Bahrain to take its turn and it has the right to have the secretary general who will represent the Council and all of us,” Shaikh Hamad told Al Jazeera television channel.

“The allegations about the issue are not true. We support the rotation and we have always endorsed it. All there is now is that we have some remarks that we have conveyed in a fraternal way to our brothers in Bahrain. They are not related to the right of Bahrain to have a Bahraini national as secretary general," he said.

Hatoon’s call was warmly welcomed by readers who stressed that women in the Gulf should be supported in their drive to assert their capabilities at the regional level. However, several readers in their comments scorned the suggestion as either "totally unrealistic" or "blatantingly flouting social and religious mores."

  • By Habib Toumi, Bahrain Bureau Chief
  • Published: 12:05 December 21, 2009