Story by Kaileigh Higgins
AMMAN, Jordan – For the past 30 years, the Gulf Cooperation Council has remained a powerful and wealthy bloc of Arab nations with significant influence in the region and abroad. On May 10, the GCC opened the doors that have been shut since its inception, inviting Jordan and Morocco to join this “monarchy club.”
These invitations come at a time when Arab leaders have watched their counterparts in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain fall to the “Arab Spring” revolutions spreading across the region. For the most part, member states of the GCC have, for now, remained intact but are wary of the region’s growing unrest.
It is unclear the exact motives behind why Jordan, a strategically positioned country that has remained relatively stable during the recent unrest, has been asked to join Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates and Qatar now following decades of exclusion from the GCC bloc. But it is clear that Jordan stands to gain economically as a member of this organization. In the midst of an economic recession, Jordan, which, along with fellow invitee Morocco and the other member countries, operates under a monarchy system, could gain access to the vast wealth and resources of the GCC.
“Culturally speaking, we are very similar,” said Jawad Anani about all the members states. “As members we can contribute more and can benefit more.” Anani is a former deputy prime minister of Jordan and an economic expert.
On May 25, 1981, the six original members signed the charter to the GCC, forming a coalition of wealthy monarchies. According to their charter, the GCC’s objectives are to “effect coordination, integration and inter-connection between member states…deepen and strengthen relations” and formulate similar economic, commerce, customs, communication, education and culture regulations.
“When the GCC was first created, many Arab countries who didn’t join, they saw it as a ‘rich man’s club’,” said Anani.
Though the member states share wealth and resources, they also share security forces. Situated in a region plagued with ethnic and religious conflicts, the Sunni states of the Gulf joined forces following the rise of the Shia during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
“The creation of the GCC was prompted by security considerations,” said Anani. “The main motive for creating this was to help the Gulf states join forces and act in unison against the Iranian front.”
Jordan has already contributed to the Gulf on the defense issues. Jordan has one of the best-trained militaries in the Arab region, and assists GCC member states in military training and operations. When Bahrain faced an uprising, a group consisting mainly of Shias, the Council sent a force to support the king, a force that included a unit of Jordanian soldiers.
“As for security, this has always been the case,” said Anani. “In a way, they have already been joining forces in Bahrain, working with the Gulf as a very strong security force.”
Military is not the only support that Jordan can provide for the GCC. What is a “critical” economic advantage for both Jordan and the GCC is the labor movement, according to Jordan’s former Minister of Planning Tahar Kanaan. Jordanian workers can replace non-Arab immigrants filling positions in GCC member states while sending wages back home.
“There is a lot of talent in the Jordanian labor force, immense, if Jordan becomes a full member or something like approaching a full member and enjoying movement of labor. That would be a great boost for the economy in the way of remittances that would be dispatched by Jordanians working in GCC countries, ” said Kanaan. “Now the Jordanians have distinct benefits over non-Arab workers and if the GCC opens up it will consolidate its population by quality, its demography will be homogeneous and culturally has more affinity than non-Arab workers.”
Jordan, currently facing a $2 billion deficit, is in an economic recession. In addition, it has limited availability of water and energy. Joining the GCC will hopefully allow Jordan access to the vast resources of member states.
“Major economic improvement can come,” said Anani, “not only in the budget or in the deficit, but it is the shortage of water and energy resources. ”
It is clear that both sides will benefit from the possible acceptance of Jordan into the GCC, but the reason behind the sudden openness of the Council is still unclear. With the recent unrest caused by the democratic revolutions, many of the monarchies of the GCC are concerned for the security of their regimes.
According to Anani, governments fall into two schools of thought regarding these sweeping democratic changes: revolutionary, which calls for regime change; and evolutionary, where reform can take place from within.
“The Gulf states, which subscribe to the second school of thought, see these countries who think like them and are joining forces,” said Anani. “This ascension strengthens the forces which call for maintaining and effecting change gradually and from within.”
Securing Jordan financially serves the interest of the Gulf states. Though most are loyal to the monarchy and Jordan has avoided the mass “Arab Spring” protests, there have been some protests in Jordan regarding the economic issues its citizens are facing.
“They want to put Jordan in a position to move out from fragility,” said Kanaan.
Little has been said about how each of the member nations feels about Jordan joining their ranks. But according to Badar Al-Madi of the University of Jordan, Kuwait and Oman may have issues regarding Jordan’s decision to support Sadaam Hussein during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The terms of membership have not been announced yet, and it is still uncertain what type of role Jordan or Morocco will play in the GCC or if they will receive the same benefits available to current member states.
“There are the economic advantages that might happen or might not happen depending on the reading of the treaty and what provisions might emerge later on for conditions for membership,” said Kanaan. “It will take a very long time for this to happen.”
With this uncertainty comes the fear that the invitation is just a political ploy by the GCC; a symbolic show of unity between the ruling Arab monarchies against the democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab region.
“The benefits of joining are the benefits of joining an economic union, that’s what is good for everybody,” said Kanaan. “If it is just cosmetics and it goes into the politics of association, than it is not serious and it will get nobody nowhere. It will be just propaganda value.”