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Expanded GCC – Morocco and Jordan to Join the Club?

May 11, 2011

Today’s widely reported story that Morocco and Jordan are applying to join the Gulf Cooperation Council has interesting implications. The UAE’s Gulf News spells out the essence of the story in today’s edition. Here are some extracts:

“Gulf Arab leaders say they have welcomed Jordan’s and Morocco’s requests to join the bloc.

The news of the Kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco possibly joining the Gulf Cooperation Council states was met with shock and awe amongst users of social media networks within minutes of its announcement. Shaikh Mohammad leads the UAE delegation at the annual Consultative Summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Riyadh on Tuesday. Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and Abdul Latif Al Zayani, GCC Secretary General, also attended. The developments in Yemen and the GCC mediation, the situation in Libya and Syria were on the summit’s agenda.

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) could be the umbrella for all the monarchies in the Arab world after the six-member alliance on Tuesday welcomed bids by the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco to join it, its secretary general Abdul Latif Al Zayani said.

The foreign ministers of the six countries were tasked to start negotiations with their Jordanian and Moroccan counterparts to complete the required procedures, according to media reports from Riyadh where the leaders of the GCC states held their one-day annual advisory council.

The summit has no specific agenda, unlike the official annual rotating summit, usually held in December.

The membership of Jordan and Morocco would also have a deep political, social, economic, security and defence impact.

Jordan is geographically linked to Saudi Arabia and both kingdoms share terrestrial borders that stretch more than 700km.

Yemen has often said since the 1990s that it wanted to join the alliance, but several factors have hampered a positive response to its requests.

The Gulf Cooperation Council includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

The bloc of monarchies was created in 1981 to coordinate political and economic policies. Following a meeting Tuesday in Riyadh, Gulf Arab leaders welcomed Jordan’s request to join.

A statement on the Jordanian news agency said Jordan is seeking a free trade agreement with the GCC.

The six countries are seen as among the most influential of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ members.”

As the report suggests, the possibility of Jordan and Morocco joining the GCC has wide implications. Aside from the political considerations, the prospect of free movement and employment within an expanded GCC for Moroccans and Jordanians is likely to be the subject of intense debate within the current GCC administrations. One only has to recall the massive influx into the wealthier economies of the European Union of migrant workers from newly-admitted members such as Poland, the Baltic states and Romania to project the potential impact of the expansion of the GCC.

If mass migration into the economic honeypots of the Gulf were to result in the replacement of other non-GCC nationals by Jordanians and Moroccans, the change would most likely be seen as positive among current GCC nationals. Both countries possess large numbers of highly qualified professionals who would be an asset to prospective new employers. But if their arrival impacted programmes in most GCC countries to increase the employment of nationals, they might not be so welcome.

The Gulf News piece also emphasises that the current GCC members are all monarchies. Does the proposed expansion to include two more monarchies imply that one of the organisation’s primary objectives is the preservation of monarchical systems of government? If so, then Yemen is potentially excluded forever. Yet one could argue that Yemen is the infected thumb of the Arabian Peninsula, and that its incorporation into the GCC  – either as an associate or full member – would be one of the most effective ways to enhance the security of the region, provided of course that the wealthier members were prepared to invest heavily in the reconstruction of the country. The case for more proactive support of Yemen by the GCC was well made in a recent article by the Emirati commentator Mishaal Al Gergawi.

Another implication of the proposal is the position of Egypt, one of the big beasts of the region. If Egypt finds itself outside an increasingly powerful economic and political bloc, how is it likely to react? By making common cause with neighbours or near-neighbours such as Algeria, Syria, Lebanon and Libya – assuming of course that those countries return to political equilibrium? And then of course there is the question of how regional players such as Turkey and Iran will seek to shore up or enhance their influence. Last but not least, how would Israel deal with the shifting landscape of alliances on its doorstep?

So expect a rash of analysis on these issues by commentators far wiser than me.

One final observation though. Expressions of support in the Arab world for political initiatives do not imply imminent action. Proposals are often aired to test opinion, and then quietly laid to rest if they meet widespread public or behind-the-scenes opposition. So don’t be surprised if this initiative takes years to implement, or alternatively fades away. Remember the snail-like progress towards monetary union within the current GCC.

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