While defence remains a crucial priority for the Gulf states today, the economic and political landscapes are shifting for some, with new priorities rising to the top of their agendas.

Such changes mean "they'll be even less insulated from what's going on in the world, both in terms of information and in terms of trading and economy," says Terence Taylor, assistant director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. "They don't want to be left behind; they don't want to be on the wrong side of the so-called 'digital divide'. I don't know that they're ready to move past oil yet, but I think they want to enlarge their participation in the global economy."

Qatar in particular is moving forcefully towards joining the global economy as a player in electronics. "Qatar is probably the leader at the moment," Taylor says. Oman, too, is demonstrating its interest in the IT industry by intensifying its national higher education focus on the subject.

In Bahrain, steps towards a limited democracy are being made, in part because of a change of rulers several years ago and because the country has a majority indigenous Shi'ite population, Taylor says. Other Gulf states may face less pressure at this time to move toward similar change because, Taylor notes, "although pressures are there for some, they are not sufficient to bring about major constitutional changes".

The next rounds of bargaining for new weapons systems and accessories may find Gulf states' leaders driving for better deals than in the past because they have less cash than they used to. But Taylor suggests: "The link between oil price and orders is less direct than one might think - what drives them is a threat, whether or not they reach a point where they have obsolescent aircraft or other major weapons systems that need to be replaced."

He adds that "the orders are mainly over-ambitious anyway and they are rarely 100% fulfilled, with the exception of contracts such as Al Yamamah - the £4 billion ($6 billion) Saudi military programme with the UK that included airbases and other infrastructure as well as aircraft and associated equipment purchases - which is such an amazing deal, how could they refuse it?"

Source: Flight International