In this timely work, Qulliam and Thompson delve into the policy making and governance of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states covering different thematic issues and individual case studies. The GCC states have come to the forefront in the post-Arab Spring era as emerging powerhouses in the Middle East because of their assertive foreign policies, important energy resources and vast financial capabilities. In this edited volume, the authors open the black boxes of the GCC states and present important domestic dynamics and their repercussions in governance. The book consists of three parts with ten chapters, each elaborating a theme in the GCC states.

The first part focuses on the state and e-government. In chapter 1, Shafeeq Ghabra presents the complex relations between state and a diverse range of societal factors in Kuwait. These are divided across ethnic, tribal, confessional, sectarian, gendered and socio-economic lines. Ghabra successfully demonstrates how the ruling elites’ unwillingness and inability to implement policies which ensure social cohesion and inclusion has the potential to cultivate grievances, extreme ideas and actions, especially among the youth in Kuwait. In chapter 2, Mehtab Currey, Abdullah Al-Shoaibi and Nassir Alkasabi focus on Saudi Arabia’s foreign aid policies and the role of two important institutions, the Saudi Fund for Development and Islamic Development Bank, in allocating Saudi state resources for international development.

In chapter 3, Sherif Fawzi Abdel Gawad and Maggie Kamel give an up-to-date assessment of e-government initiatives in the GCC, its effectiveness in bridging the gap between states and societies, and its potential importance in enhancing reforms in the post-oil era in the region. In chapter 4, Rhea Abraham elaborates further on e-government policies in Qatar in the form of a case study. She points out that although e-government policies in Qatar have enhanced service provisions and increased civic engagement, they have fallen short of creating meaningful citizen participation in policy-making processes and thus need to be advanced further.

The second part of the book is devoted to chapters focusing on issues related to citizens, economy and labor in the GCC. In chapter 5, I Tsung Tsai and Abdullah Kaya assess both the vertical and horizontal economic diversification strategies of GCC states, the effectiveness of ‘National Visions’ and the role of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in that regard. The authors conclude that since diversification policies are dominated by SOEs, they are unlikely to have a major impact on the existing structure of local economic and political institutions. In chapter 6, David Jones, Radhika Punshi and Gauri Gupta present their comparative quantitative research in GCC and UK, which shows the growing gap between education and employability among young graduates, a gap which is uniquely high in the GCC region. In chapter 7, Faisal Kattan critically engages with the Saudi nationalization scheme (Saudization) policy which envisions increasing the Saudi workforce in the private sector to sustain a knowledge-based economy. Yet, Kattan emphasizes the disparity between the idea of citizenship in Saudi textbooks, and the adaptive, analytical, mobile and creative type of citizen required for a knowledge-based economy to flourish.

The third part of the book looks at institutional processes and their impact on policy making, with examples from Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In Chapter 8, Alanoud Alsharekh presents the role of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as agents of political change in Kuwait. Alsharekh focuses exclusively on the Women’s Cultural and Social Society (WCSS), detailing its establishment, agenda, organizational structure and relations with the government and other societal groups in Kuwait. In the next chapter, Natasha Ridge and Susan Kippels document the growth of 11 state-owned philanthropies in the UAE in a parallel trend across the globe, presenting an exhaustive agenda for further research. In the final chapter of the book, Adam Kulach assesses the rapid growth of the civil society sector in the GCC in general, as well as a more focused look at Saudi Arabia where there have been more political and religious obstacles.

As the editors intended, Policy-Making in the GCC successfully shifts exclusive focus from state to formal and informal institutions in shaping and informing policy in the GCC. For instance, Alsharekh’s assessment of the role of WCSS in expanding political inclusion and women’s suffrage in Kuwait demonstrates the pressing and mobilizing capacity of civil society groups in the Gulf.

Throughout the book the authors provide both descriptive and critical analysis with the most up to date and historical data in their respective subjects. Well documented numbers on the formal and informal institutions, economic indicators and the volumes of development aid allocated by GCC states make this book a valuable source for both scholars and policy-makers to pursue further research. In addition to each chapter’s focus on different aspects of policy making in the Gulf region, the book attempts to demonstrate the change in the rentier bargain between the rulers and the ruled, which is quite dynamic and responsive to the regional and global trends.

Qulliam and Thompson deliberately capture the instrumental and mediating role of the institutions in the play-off between bottom-up pressures and top-down responses in the GCC. These bottom-up pressures from the expanding numbers of youths are worth mentioning as a general theme highlighted throughout the book, as the issue necessitates GCC governments to address the social, economic and political demands of their rapidly increasing young populations. Last but not least, the authors critically assess the overly dominant role of the state in policy making, and therefore the under-performance of initiatives (especially e-government and economic diversification efforts) in creating more transparent and inclusive institutions in the Gulf region.

Two minor yet constructive criticisms can be made: Firstly, in regard to the lack of focus on the sectarianizing politics of the systematic exclusion of Shia groups in many GCC countries. Ghabra’s chapter briefly touches on Kuwait’s Shiites political and social status, yet a detailed analysis of sectarianization of religious identities since the Arab Spring and the role of institutions in reinforcing this exclusion is not elaborated on in the book.

A second concern relates to the choice of case studies, with countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar being selected to examine policy-making and institutions in the GCC, while others such as Bahrain and Oman are left of much of the analysis. Despite being less affluent and marginal members of the GCC, a closer examination of the role of institutions and policy-making processes in a highly personalized state (Oman) and in a very fragmented society (Bahrain) would increase the generalizability and comparability of the arguments in the book.