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Gulf leaders will meet in Riyadh on Monday, and according to Bahrain’s de facto Information Minister, the announcement of a new, stronger union will be amongst its outcomes.

Not all six GCC states would necessarily be on board, but at the very least it would include Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. ”I expect there will be an announcement of two or three countries. We can’t be sure but I have a strong expectation,” Samira Rajab, Bahrain’s minister of state for information affairs, is being quote as saying by Agence France Press and Reuters.

She says individual sovereignties will be maintained, but the European Union-style body would make united decisions on foreign relations, security, military and economic policy.

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah called for a “phase of union within a single entity” last December.

Other sources have confirmed that a Gulf Union will be part of tomorrow’s talks, and Bahrain’s Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa was quoted as saying he expects union plans to move forward, calling it the “biggest dream of the peoples of the region.”

Al Khalifa also said the union in a necessary step under the “current circumstances,” evidently referring to the uprising that has continued in Bahrain since February 2011.

As Qatar-based regional analyst David Roberts points out in a article for Foreign Policy, the prolonged instability has severely impacted Bahrain’s economy. And there are fears amongst the ruling classes in Manama and Riyadh that Iran is eyeing regime change.

Says Roberts:

Such a bilateral union would normalize the Saudi-led military action in Bahrain to potentially pave the way for the permanent stationing of “GCC” troops in Bahrain, while signaling the death knell for any political resolution with Riyadh having a de jure say over such outcomes as opposed to its already potent de facto sway.

Reaction online has been skeptical, with some calling for a referendum on the decision:

Others questions the ramifications of such a union:

It’s clear, thought, that the move is not without some supporters:

Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, the general manager of Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya, has also laid out his views on the matter in an op-ed for Arab News, saying he won’t support a union that "would nullify the features of any Gulf society." In specific, he refers to women driving and cinemas in most Gulf states, parliamentary elections in Kuwait and free media in Saudi.

What do you think of the idea?

Credit: Map of Gulf countries via Google Maps

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Gulf neighbors Kuwait and Bahrain are looking to strengthen regulation of media, especially social media, as both countries feel the bite of online freedom of speech.

In Bahrain, the government has frequently sought to squelch dissent from journalists and opposition activists as it spends million of dollars to control public perception. Its latest move is to appoint Sameera Rajab to be Bahrain’s new Minister of State for Information Affairs, with the task of introducing stricter laws to curb “media misuses,” including on social media websites.

Kuwait, meanwhile, has recently seen several scandals over tweets deemed blasphemous or inflammatory. The country’s information minister, Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, said yesterday:

"The government is now in the process of establishing laws that will allow government entities to regulate the use of the different new media outlets such as Twitter in order to safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society." 

This as Twitter prepares to launch an Arabic-version of its service, which would likely lead to an increase in users from the Gulf region.

Saudi Arabia last year tightened its only regulation of media, threatening fines and closure for publications that “causes harm to the general interest of the country.”

Qatar’s has long been mulling over its own new media law, but few details have emerged.

Last year, bullet points from a draft law were circulated, saying online publications would not require government licensing, although print publications - and their editors - would have to be vetted by the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage.

Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, the Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage, last March reiterated that journalists would not face jail time for defamation, but said social media would be covered under Qatar’s pending media law as “it is the most important form of free expression in the present world.”

All in all, not looking good for media freedom across the Khaleej.

What do you think?

Credit: Photo by MDGovPics