Some thoughts on GCC enlargement

There's been a lot of ink spilled — and some pretty funny jokes — about the surprise announcement that Jordan and Morocco might join the GCC. I'll let someone else provide the Gulf logic for this move (see below) and follow that with some links to pieces looking at things from various angles. But first I want to talk about this generally and then from the specifically Moroccan perspective.

The GCC announcement appears to me first and foremost an economic and political stabilization package for two countries that are traditional security subcontractors to the GCC states as well as frequent recipients of their largesse — and which have similar political systems but are much more fragile because they are not insulated by wads of oil money. The Iran aspect has been trumpeted, but Morocco and Jordan were already on that bandwagon anyway, so I think it's secondary.

Jordan is nexus to Iraq and Israel/Palestine, with a largely characterless, corrupt and politically supine king. It shares with most Gulf countries a shallow sense of identity and political legitimacy, complicated by the Israeli-Arab conflict. Morocco is a more grounded place, far across the other side of Africa, but strong relations with the Gulf are rooted in these countries' conservative, pro-US (during the Cold War and after), anti-radical policies. I can get why Jordan, which shares a border with Saudi Arabia, might want to join the GCC. For Morocco the picture is much more divided.

On the one hand, Morocco is an energy-poor country that has in recent years received billions of aid (in dollars and in oil) from the Gulf. It is a source of immigration, of security (over 6,000 Moroccan troops are stationed in the UAE according to some estimates, and senior security officials have long provided their services to the emirs there) and diplomatic support (remember when Morocco unilaterally ended diplomatic relations with Iran?) Various people at the top of the regime have close relationships with senior Gulf princes — for instance former Moroccan FM Mohammed Benaissa has gone into business with Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia. There are even families ties: Moulay Hisham, the king's estranged cousin, is a cousin of al-Waleed Bin Talal because their fathers both married daughters of former Lebanese prime minister Ryad al-Solh.

On the other, the official reaction to the announcement in Morocco has been cautious and the public's reaction has been an either amused or angry "WTF?" Moroccans fundamentally see themselves as different, in their mores and culture, to the Khalijis. Jordanians have (for half the population) at least a shared Bedouin culture and the Hejazi connection (the Hashemites are originally from the Hejaz, the Western part of Saudi Arabia). But Moroccans feel only distant historic ties to the Gulf, and over half are Berbers who feel no tie at all. There has been no effort to prepare the public and sell it to them. It might represent, for many, a golden goose: prospects for easier emmigration to the Gulf. But it also stirs up feelings of resentment against Gulf haughtiness — only last summer there was a scandal over the Saudi perception of Moroccan women as loose (no doubt because there is a brisk prostitution business in the Gulf, with Moroccans among the few Arab women more easily found). And among the Moroccan elite, there is some contempt for uncouth and nouveau riche Khalijis, lacking Maghrebi refinement. 

I am usually all for regional integration, and the GCC is a relatively successful model for the region (although that's really because there are no other successes). Morocco could benefit economically from such an arrangement. But at a time when there is more pressure on the monarchy to reform than ever before, I cannot but help fear that some of the Gulf countries — notably Saudi Arabia — have an interest in not seeing any Arab monarchy evolve towards a real, democratic, constitutional monarchy. And that is a price too high to pay.

Also: Arabist reader J. Hammond writes in with this contribution:

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced  this week that Jordan and Morocco are likely to join the economic and political union of the six Gulf States. The sudden announcement has been widely seen as a "circle the wagons" move by a group of worried monarchs.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is seen by some as an European Union type organization in the making. Since the founding of the GCC in 1981, the group has pursued greater integration on a number of issues ranging from trade to football. The GCC is even pursuing a currency union.  A recent piece in the Jordan Times noted that:

"For decades, Jordanian skilled labour has worked in the GCC countries, contributing to their development. Over 350,000 Jordanians work there. They are highly appreciated for their competence and sought out to fill important positions." 

Both Morocco and Jordan are popular destinations for Gulf tourists. With Morocco and Jordan as full members, the population of the GCC would nearly double. But, unlike the European Union which formed from an economic agreement (the 1950s European Coal and Steel Community) the GCC was first founded as a defensive pact and has became increasingly economic in nature.

This wave of expansion shows that security remains an important part of GCC equation. Both Jordan and Morocco have long coordinated with the GCC on security issues. Jordan has sent 800 personnel to the Saudi-led GCC operation in Bahrain. Indeed, Jordan's military professionalism is well known throughout the region. Morocco has also not hesitated in coming to the aid of GCC countries in the past. The country sent 13,000 troops to assist coalition forces in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Secondly, like the Gulf monarchies, Morocco's relationship with Iran has been rocky.

The GCC move is a confident one. The Arab monarchies at present appear far more stable than their republican peers. For example, Qatar and the UAE have not seen any large protests throughout the ongoing "Arab Spring". Still, this expansion of the GCC implies that the fates of the Arab world's monarchies are intertwined. With Jordan and Morocco in the tent, all Arab world monarchies would be in one single, club of kings.

Extra links:

  • FT.com / Middle East & North Africa - Gulf states’ overtures delight Jordan
  • Morocco and Jordan ask to join GCC - The National
  • Elliott Abrams: Pressure Points » Blog Archive » The GCC: “Carefully Considered Reform” or Reactionary Politics?
  • GCC throws economic lifeline to Jordan, Morocco | GantDaily.com
  • Le Maroc invité à un club très fermé?
  • ANALYSIS-Arab dynasties lure Jordan, Morocco into anti-Iran bloc | News by Country | Reuters
  • Counterrevolution in the Gulf - By Kristian Coates Ulrichsen | Foreign Policy
  • gulfnews : Muslim Brotherhood in the Gulf: An attempt to steal the show
  • AFP: Jordan, Morocco could boost GCC 'monarchy club'
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    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.