A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Circling the Thrones: Is There a Military Subtext to the Proposed GCC Expansion?

The idea broached only yesterday, of expanding the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to include Jordan and Morocco,  seems to be moving ahead rather rapidly. The GCC has instructed its Ministerial Council to discuss accession terms.  While some in the Gulf are expressing caution, others seem enthusiastic.

It's not entirely clear whose idea this was. Jordan reportedly applied for membership, but the Moroccaan case is less clear: this report from the Emirates News Agency WAM says that "Leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have welcomed a request by Jordan to join the group . . . In a similar move, the Supreme Council of the GCC also assigned the Ministerial Council to invite the foreign minister of Morocco to enter into negotiations to finalize the necessary procedures for joining the Council based on a preceding communication with the Moroccan Kingdom during which it was invited to join the GCC." That seems to sound as if Jordan applied, but the GCC approached Morocco with an invitation. Morocco has also reportedly reaffirmed its support for the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU) which links it to its North African neighbors.

Most commentators noted, as I did yesterday, that adding Jordan and Morocco to the GCC even though they are not in the Gulf would create an Arab Monarchies Club, perhaps as a bulwark against the Arab Spring. (Yemen, the only country on the Arabian Peninsula not in the GCC, has applied for membership and is going through a lengthy process, but may not be a full member before 2016 or so. And that was before the Yemeni revolt.)

Another thought occurs. Not only would an expanded GCC be a Monarchs' Club, but, as we were forcibly reminded when the Saudis and Emiratis intervened in Bahrain, GCC members have the power to intervene to protect the regimes in fellow member states. Bahrain has been quieted under virtual Saudi occupation.

Besides having thrones, Morocco and Jordan each have something that few Gulf states have: strong, well-trained Armies. In fact Jordanian officers, on secondment or retired, serve in many Gulf Armies already. Could one reason for floating the idea being to add to the GCC's military capabilities? If so, fear of Iran might provide a pretext, but the Bahraini example suggests that regime protection might be another.

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