Gulf State Business

About the Project

Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented awareness by elites in the GCC  of the need to rethink their states’ socio-economic structures in order to address challenges of socio-political and economic sustainability in a changing domestic and global context.

While high oil prices arguably reduced the pressure to transform and diversify in the past, the latest period of high prices (since 2004) has instead coincided with sustained liberalising reforms, including changes in the role of the state, economic diversification policies, and reforms in labour markets, health, education and the judiciary. The striking socio-economic changes GCC states are experiencing have significant implications for the social contract. The current raft of reforms, affecting welfare models, economic structure, and the sociology of business, also has global implications: these states are of global geopolitical and geo-economic importance; they are at the heart of the Arab world’s economy; and it is here that the most significant Arab bourgeoisie has arguably been emerging.

The particular focus of this research is the business elite conceived as a key actor in the current social and economic policies. This project examines the business community’s evolution, position, perceptions and role in these policies, and its relations with ‘state’ and regime. It is aimed at: 

  • surveying and interpreting the features and dynamics of the GCC states’ economic and associated policies and their impact on the old welfare state social contract; 
  • providing a detailed and up-to-date analysis of the social composition of the business elite in each of the GCC countries; 
  • understanding how local economic management, especially economic reform policies and the transformation of the social contract historically based on oil rent, are affected by one of the most influential social groups—the business elite.

The project’s research questions are:

  • the desired and actual roles of the economic elite in affecting the orientation and the outcomes of the policies: What interests have they pursued, how, and to what effect?
  • conversely, what are the implications and effects of these socio-economic policies on the composition and orientation of the business elite and on the state-business relationship?

The project’s methodological contribution lies both in its comparative approach and its emphasis on the social meanings and perceptions of actors. This approach, through first-hand interviews and collections of primary documents, gives a voice to the actors themselves and will contribute to a better understanding of the ways in which policy in the GCC states is formed, negotiated, transformed and implemented by multiple interests.

At a wider level, investigating state-business relations in the Gulf monarchies throws light on: the role of the economic elite in the liberalisation/consolidation of authoritarian regimes; the social changes occurring in this region, where new generations call into question the inherited social models; the dynamics of economic liberalisation processes as studied in other regions and contexts.

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International workshop on state-business relations in the GCC Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies Exeter, 12-13 September...

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