Since the late 1990s, the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)—which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (often referred to as the Arabian Gulf)—has undergone rapid demographic, economic and social changes. Since 1998, the region’s real GDP has expanded by an annual average of over 5 percent. Over the same period, the population has risen from just over 28 million in to an estimated 41 million in 2013.
Four of the six countries—Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—have significant revenues from oil and gas and, have some of the world’s highest per capita incomes (especially so if delineated along national/non-national lines). With the exception of Saudi Arabia, all have very small national populations and, as a consequence rely heavily on a large number of expatriate “guest” workers. In Qatar and the UAE, nationals only make up a small fraction of their respective workforces.
The unprecedented economic boom for much of the first decade of this century (then brief bust, followed by ripples of the “Arab Spring” and now, a return to strong growth) has focused world attention on the region’s economies—no longer are the viewed solely as exporters of oil and gas, but increasingly as a destination for investment, with major infrastructural projects underway, a booming tourism sector and, a number of financial hubs.