By Pierre Razoux
Jun 03 2011,
The proposal to enlarge the Gulf Cooperation Council to Jordan and Morocco, made at a meeting in Riyadh last month, marks a profound change in the nature of the organisation as it reaches its 30th anniversary. This decision, which went practically unnoticed in the West, is all the more worthy of attention: it is likely to usher in long-term changes in the region’s political scenario.
Initially set up to provide a safeguard against an Iranian military threat and to create regional economic integration in the Arabian peninsula, the GCC now operates as a club for the Arab monarchies. The council’s aim is to defend the region’s eight monarchic regimes. It fears that the fall of even a single monarchy could have irreversible consequences for the rest, undermining the legitimacy of the reigning families and opening the gates to those in the Arab world looking for more liberty, justice and equality. This’s why the monarchies intervened to quash the uprising in Bahrain.
Today, it is Jordan and Morocco that are seen as the weak links in this chain of interests. Both monarchies are highly in debt and face social unrest. This is why the countries of the GCC — Kuwait, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar — have extended a hand. The council’s initiative is a sign of the panic sweeping the royal courts in the Gulf, particularly Riyadh’s. The Saudi royals have had to come to terms with the Arab Spring. The rise in popular discontent could reach dangerous levels if the Yemenites manage to oust President Saleh. The Saudi government is trying to prevent his fall and also pledging support to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
The containment of Iran no longer seems to be a priority for the international community. The fall of Hosni Mubarak brought the curtain down on the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The Egyptian generals now seem to be turning more toward Ankara and Tehran, snubbing Riyadh. Moreover, the Obama administration is no longer perceived as giving its unconditional support to the Saudi regime. The way Washington left the autocratic regimes of Tunisia and Egypt to their fate frightens the princes of the Gulf, who know they do not enjoy great popular support. Though the Gulf monarchies account for only a tenth of the total Arab population, they hold half its wealth. By bringing Jordan and Morocco into the fold, members of the GCC hope to reinforce their strength both demographically and economically. Another advantage for Saudi Arabia is it can count on the support of Jordan and Morocco within the council and increase its political clout at Qatar’s expense.
What are the potential advantages for Jordan and Morocco? Both stand to gain massive financial assistance and political support. In exchange, they will declare allegiance to the Gulf monarchies. It is thus not inconceivable that Jordanian troops might intervene in Saudi Arabia to quell a popular uprising there. Finally, the kings of Jordan and of Morocco are likely to find they have to limit the scope of their democratic reforms, so as not to offer a worrying precedent.
This enlargement — which also serves the interests of the Israeli government in that it reinforces the Jordanian monarchy and increases the isolation of the Palestinians — accentuates regional antagonisms. It marginalises Yemen, isolates Iraq, and aggravates the frustration of Palestinians and other Arabs.
Given that President Obama has spoken out firmly in support of the Middle East peace process and the move toward democratisation in the Arab world, the council’s efforts could be the precursor to a political crisis between the US and Saudi Arabia. If so, that would indeed prove to be a major revolution.
Source: New York Times