June 15, 2011 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 696

Addition of Jordan and Morocco to Gulf Cooperation Council – A New Sunni Arab Alignment Against Iran

June 15, 2011 | By H. Varulkar*
Morocco, Jordan | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 696


In recent months, the conflict between the Gulf states and Iran has escalated, culminating in February-March 2011, when the Gulf states claimed that Iran was behind Shi'ite protests in Bahrain calling for the ouster of the regime there, and that it was encouraging Shi'ite protests in Saudi Arabia. Officials from the Gulf states, chiefly from Saudi Arabia, accused Iran of meddling in the affairs of the Gulf states in order to topple their Sunni regimes and to spark unrest throughout the Gulf region. Events reached a climax on March 14, when the Gulf states dispatched thousands of Peninsula Shield Force troops to Bahrain in order to assist the regime there in suppressing Shi'ite protestors.[1]

On May 10, 2011, as a result of this escalation, leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states announced, at the conclusion of an advisory summit in Riyadh, that they welcomed Jordan's request to join the council, and invited Morocco to join as well.[2] This announcement came as a surprise to the Arab and Islamic world. Various reports indicate that some of the delegations which participated in the meeting were themselves surprised by the announcement.

It seems that the decision to include Jordan and Morocco in the GCC was driven by a combination of motives – political, sectarian, social, and economic – and came at this particular time in order to achieve a number of goals:

1. Creating a new Sunni alignment against Iran and the Shi'a. Saudi and Jordanian newspapers did not hide the fact that including Jordan and Morocco in the GCC is aimed at strengthening the Gulf states' military capabilities, in preparation for a possible future military conflict with Iran. Some also claimed that it was an attempt to strengthen the axis of the moderate Sunni Arab states, which had suffered a major blow recently with the ouster of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, one pillar of this axis. The desire to strengthen the Sunni states against the Shi'ite enemy would explain the GCC's decision to extend a membership invitation specifically to the distant Jordan and Morocco – which are both Sunni – rather than to neighboring Iraq, which has a Shi'ite majority and a Shi'ite-led government.

2. Bolstering the internal strength and stability of the Arab monarchies, in light of the waves of popular protest and revolution which have swept the Arab world and overthrown several Arab republics, and which have also encroached on some of the Arab monarchies– chiefly Bahrain – threatening to topple their royal families.

3. Creating a new inter-Arab political body, in light of the increasingly precarious state of the Arab League. The protests in the Arab world, particularly the Egyptian revolution that brought about the ouster of the Mubarak regime and the popular protests now threatening President Bashar Al-Assad's regime in Syria, have created a leadership vacuum in the Arab world. The Arab League, traditionally the political body that united the Arab countries and led joint Arab moves, is today barely functional. This is manifested, for example, by the cancellation of this year's Arab League summit – held annually in March – that had been slated to convene in Baghdad.

It would appear, therefore, that Jordan and Morocco's acceptance into the GCC is, among other things, an attempt by the Gulf states to make the GCC a new inter-Arab political body that will guide moves in the region and replace the Arab League – thus shifting the center of gravity and decision making in the Arab world to the Gulf region.[3] For this reason, the Saudi press called the decision "a brilliant political move" and "a decisive and highly important stage in the political history of the Arab region and the Middle East."[4]

The GCC's decision to accept Jordan and Morocco had its share of opponents, among them the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Kuwaiti Ummah Council members and Kuwaiti Shi'ite and Islamist columnists, and columnists in the Qatari press.

I. Strengthening the Moderate Sunni Countries against Shi'ite Iran

As mentioned, the main motivation for accepting Jordan and Morocco into the GCC is to strengthen the moderate Sunni axis, which recently suffered a harsh blow with the ouster of the Mubarak regime, and to create a strong Sunni Arab bloc against Shi'ite Iran and its attempts to meddle in the affairs of the Gulf states. This last reason was particularly relevant following the recent escalation in the conflict between the Gulf states and Iran, after the latter supported Shi'ite protests in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.[5]

On May 13, 2011, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported that the move was intended "to send a clear political message to the far shore of the Gulf [i.e. Iran] that the security of Jordan and Morocco is an integral part of the security of the Gulf states." The daily further reported that the decision to include Jordan and Morocco came after the discovery of Iranian intelligence activity aimed at delegitimizing the regimes of these two countries as well.[6]

Further evidence that the move is aimed at strengthening the Sunni alignment against the Shi'ite enemy is the fact that the GCC invited geographically distant Jordan and Morocco, which are manifestly Sunni and lack any significant Shi'ite presence, rather than to proximate Iraq, which has a Shi'ite majority and a Shi'ite-led government, and is also subject to increasing Iranian influence.[7]

Al-Quds Al-Arabi: The GCC Aims To Create Sunni Strategic Depth Against Iran

'Abd Al-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi – which is identified with the anti-Saudi opposition camp – claimed that Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Sa'ud was behind the GCC's initiative, just as he had previously advanced the Arab peace initiative. Atwan said that this was the monarch's way of dealing with threats to his country, particularly when he wished to protect his own royal house; he pointed out that the peace initiative had been launched to deflect U.S. rage over the fact that 15 of the 19 individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks has been Saudis. He wrote:

"Now we must ask, What is the new danger behind [King 'Abdallah's initiative] to demolish the current model of the GCC, which has lasted for nearly 30 years... and add two new members that do not meet many of the strict criteria for acceptance...

"Some say that the Iranian danger is what made these exceptions to the acceptance criteria possible; others claimed that Egypt's departure from the so-called 'moderate camp' was a major reason for it. Still others think that the sectarian factionalism that is spreading rapidly and forcefully through the region, and which emanates primarily from Bahrain, necessitates the creation of a Sunni stockpile, or, in other words, Sunni [strategic] depth that will strengthen the Gulf states – which have been infiltrated by Iranian cells, both active and sleeper, which could destabilize the region the moment they receive Tehran's commands for action.

"It was no coincidence that Jordan and Morocco were chosen; these two countries have the most powerful intelligence apparatuses in the Middle East, and are strategically allied with Washington. Most importantly, these two countries are completely Sunni, without a single other sect – and this is a crucial matter to those who work [behind the scenes] of Saudi policy..."[8]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: The GCC – A Stronghold of Resistance to the Iranian Threat

Tareq Alhomayed, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: "Jordan's joining [the GCC], and Morocco's joining as well, assuming that it does, means that the council... will be a stronghold of [military] resistance, will guarantee [the security] of the entities [of the region] whose policies are sound, and will confront the threat posed by the non-Arab powers in the region, chiefly Iran and its agents... from which all the Gulf states, as well as Jordan and Morocco, have suffered..."[9]

Saudi and Jordanian Dailies: The GCC Is Strengthening Its Military Power Vis-à-vis Iran

In an editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah explained that the background for adding Jordan and Morocco to the GCC concerned the desire to strengthen the organization's military capability against Iran, and added: "... The Gulf states have begun... to adopt a path of self defense and of expanding and diversifying [their] sources of support, whether by increasing the variety of manpower or of sources of armament, or through appeals to China and Russia, with less reliance on the U.S., France, and Britain – which have been apathetic regarding the threats against the Arab Gulf states..."[10]

Al-Jazirah analyst Jasser Al-Jasser also stated that the addition of Jordan and Morocco would transform the GCC into "a strategic force that must not be underestimated, and that the peoples of these countries will constitute a population bloc of over 100 million people, with an effective military force. This will strengthen the Arab region, its security, and the security of the Arab Gulf in particular."[11]

Saleh Al-Qallab, Jordan Radio and Television Corporation director and former Jordanian information minister, wrote in his column in the Jordanian daily Al-Rai: "...The arrogant ones with the Persian imperialist aspirations continue to issue their rapacious threats. In addition, there is also blatant Iranian interference in the domestic matters of all the Gulf states. Therefore, Jordan's joining the GCC will strengthen these brothers' security and military capabilities..."[12]

Saudi Arabia Recruits Pakistan, Malaysia For Sunni Anti-Iranian Bloc

It should be noted that, in parallel to the addition of Jordan and Morocco to the GCC, Saudi Arabia has in recent months been working to garner support and aid from additional Sunni countries, namely, Pakistan and Malaysia, in a bid to create a dominant Sunni bloc against Iran. As part of this campaign, Emir Bandar bin Sultan, secretary-general of the Saudi National Security Council, visited both countries in March to meet with heads of state. The meetings appear to have borne fruit: Pakistan and Malaysia have agreed to send troops to Bahrain to help the regime there suppress the anti-regime Shi'ite unrest there – an indication that both countries have in effect joined the Sunni anti-Iranian camp.

On March 28, 2011, bin Sultan visited Pakistan and met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. Following the meeting, the former called Pakistan Saudi Arabia's "strategic partner," while Prime Minister Gilani said that Pakistan promised to continue to stand alongside Saudi Arabia in all international forums. He added that Pakistan was "interested in tightening up its strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia."[13]

Indeed, Pakistani support for Saudi Arabia and for its anti-Iranian policy went beyond mere words; in March 2011, it emerged that Pakistani organizations similar to Blackwater had recruited thousands of Pakistani troops, both active and demobilized, and sent them to Bahrain to assist the regime there in suppressing Shi'ite protestors.[14] The Saudi oppositionist monthly Al-Hejaz reported that Pakistan had complied with a Saudi request to provide assistance in defending the royal families of the Gulf states. According to the report, two Pakistani military units were already on standby for deployment throughout Saudi Arabia in the event that the wave of Shi'ite protests reach that country. In return, the report said, Saudi Arabia had promised to help Pakistan rehabilitate its economy and meet its energy needs.[15]

As mentioned, bin Sultan also succeeded in recruiting Malaysia to the Sunni anti-Iranian camp. On March 23, 2011, he visited the country and met with its prime minister, Najib 'Abd Al-Razzaq, with whom he discussed the events in the Gulf and in Bahrain in particular. A statement released by the Malaysian Prime Minister's Office said that "Malaysia supports the steps taken by the GCC states in all matters concerning the events in Bahrain," and that Malaysia condemned the protestors' "terror operations aimed at undermining the security and stability of these states."[16] Malaysia's support for Saudi Arabia and its anti-Iranian policy reached a new level when, on May 13, following a meeting with Saudi King 'Abdallah in Riyadh, Prime Minister 'Abd Al-Razzaq announced that his country would be prepared to send troops to Bahrain to fight alongside those of the Peninsula Shield Force.[17]

II. The Monarchical Regimes Are Uniting To Protect Themselves from Popular Revolutions

The addition of Jordan and Morocco to the GCC was also interpreted as a way of increasing the stability of the Arab monarchies, as the latter attempt to unify as a way of protecting themselves and their royal houses against the wave of popular revolutions sweeping the Arab world. These monarchies, it was posited, fear that the revolutions, which have so far only toppled republics, will not spare their Arab kingdoms.[18]

It should be noted that this interpretation was offered by opponents of the move; these elements also ridiculed the GCC, saying that it was going to turn into a "monarchy club."[19]

Article In Saudi Oppositionist Monthly: GCC Decision Expresses Fear That the Fall of One Royal House Will Cause a Chain Reaction

An article in the Saudi oppositionist monthly Al-Hejaz claimed that "there is a near consensus that the decision by the Gulf states (in effect, by Saudi Arabia)... is an expression of political desperation and profound concern that the Arab revolution may spread into the private harem of the Gulf states... There is also agreement that this step was taken swiftly, even hastily, and without being examined.

"The Aal Sa'ud family [was functioning] under the pressure of this historic revolutionary moment, looking for fences that would block these revolutions that are spreading from [one] Arab country to the next...

"[It is feared] that one of these revolutions will land in a certain place and [will bring down] the monarchical regime there – thus whetting the appetite of the people to bring down other monarchical regimes..."[20]

Jaber Muhammad Al-Hajiri, a columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas, likewise claimed that "this addition [of Jordan and Morocco] has no justification other than [the desire] to protect inherited regimes..."[21]

Saudi Writers: Unlike the Arab Republics, the Arab Monarchies Don't Kill Their Own People

Saudi columnists who supported the decision to add Jordan and Morocco to the GCC did not hide the fact that it was aimed at consolidating the Arab monarchical regimes. They stressed that these regimes were characterized by moderateness and openness – in stark contrast to the misguided Arab republics.

Tareq Alhomayed, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: "The initial response to the decision of the GCC summit in Riyadh... was to ask: Is this a union of all the monarchies? And the answer is: Why not? So be it; there is nothing wrong with that. As a former Arab official told me: 'The monarchical Arab regimes enjoy legitimacy and validity, and the popular demands there for reform are unrelated to the ruler or the regime,' but to legislation, laws, etc.

"The pressing question is: Are our Arab republics [indeed] fundamentally republics – considering that in the Arab republics, presidents last longer than [Arab] kings and emirs, and positions are inherited even in the state institutions, and not just at the top of the pyramid? It is enough to examine the situation in Libya and the positions filled by [Mu'ammar] Al-Qadhafi's sons.

"What has now been proven, in light of the political earthquake that is striking the entire region, is that the monarchical regimes do not kill their own people. On the contrary, they accept their demands with greater moderateness [than in the Arab republics]. They are also more connected and closer [to their peoples]..."[22]

Jasser Al-Jasser, analyst for the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, wrote similarly: "All eight countries [the six Gulf states, Jordan and Morocco] are monarchical countries ruled by kings and emirs, and are all politically moderate, as appropriate for today's needs. [All of them] are experiencing awakenings in development and in reform, and have regimes that follow the right path and respect their citizens, in accordance with the principles and demands of Islamic shari'a...

"Therefore, there is no alienation between the royal or ruling families and the peoples over which they rule. The residents of these countries prefer to see themselves as one family that includes the ruler and the ruled...

"The [recent] events and modern Arab history [in general] have proven that it is these countries that have been spared the tempest of change, the revolutionary escapades, and the experience of dishonest leadership. Therefore, the unified alignment of these countries will transform it into an Arab Islamic beacon lighting the way for [other Arab countries] that have gone astray and are still employing forms of government that are foreign to the Arab and Islamic character..."[23]

III. An Alternative to the Failed Arab League

As mentioned, until the onset of the popular revolution in Egypt in January 2011, and the waves of protest in Syria, beginning in March 2011, these two countries played a crucial leadership role in the Arab and Islamic world. Indeed, the ouster of the Mubarak regime and the significant threat the Assad regime is currently facing have created a leadership vacuum in the Arab world – one that Saudi Arabia has seemingly decided to take advantage of in order to establish a new Gulf-based Arab leadership and to shift the center of gravity and of decision making to there.

Many Saudi writers implied that the addition of Jordan and Morocco to the GCC will render it an alternative to the Arab League – which is now in crisis and which has failed in its attempt to unify Arab countries – and that in the near future, the GCC would lead the Arab ummah.

Saudi Daily: The Gulf States Will Play a New Role in the Arab World

In an editorial published in the Saudi government daily Al-Watan on April 12, 2011, about month before it was announced that Jordan and Morocco would join the GCC, this Saudi aspiration was already clearly noticeable. The editorial stated:

"Syria, as an axis country in the region, has a known and influential role in the course of many Arab issues, and a primary role in all things concerning the balance of power in the region – whether because of its relationship with Iran or because of the political trend as manifested in its positions... The unrest in Syria cannot but directly influence the balance of power in the region, and this [situation] will undoubtedly lead to a redrawing of the map of the region – especially if the change taking place in Egypt is included in this. We will witness the birth of a new and strong role for the central countries in the region [i.e., the Gulf states] at the expense of the peripheral countries [i.e., Syria and Egypt]..."[24]

Saudi Columnist: The GCC Will Head the Arab Ummah

Hashem 'Abdu Hashem, columnist for the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh, predicted that the GCC would constitute a hub of support for the Arab peoples, in light of the fact that the Arab League had failed and was currently in crisis. He wrote:

"The GCC countries have proven for 30 years that they are Arab countries at their roots, and that their unification has benefited not only [these countries] but the [entire] ummah. They have also proven that, thanks to their joint activities and constructive cooperation, they have constituted the greatest [source of] support for the ummah's issues and defense of its achievements...

"[On the other hand,] the Arab League, from its inception to this very day, has failed to unify the Arabs' [positions], let alone to unite them into a single, powerful, unified bloc. On the contrary, rather than fulfilling this vital role, the Arab League has recently been quite enthusiastically promoting a regional alliance with neighboring countries – particularly with the Islamic Republic of Iran...

"The GCC remains the only regional Arab organization that has managed to [stay afloat and] deal with the dangers and severe storms that have repeatedly ravaged the region... With the addition of Jordan and Morocco today, and, later, of other Arab countries, the Gulf states are close to realizing the dream this ummah's dream of true unity...

"These eight countries are a kind of genuine supportive force on the political, economic, social, and security levels, for all the Arab peoples that have entered the phase of change, such as Tunisia and Egypt... especially considering the Arab League's absence and its feeble activity on all levels... How happy will we be when the Arab alliance rises once more, and the GCC soon becomes the first and largest Arab cooperation council, and the vanguard of this ummah..."[25]

Saudi Columnist: The GCC is the Only Arab Experiment with Proven Success

On a similar note, Fahd Al-Salman, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, wrote: "Had some of the Arab regimes understood that economics is what leads politics, and not vice versa, especially in the age of large economic blocs... the Arab League could have been one of the world's biggest and most powerful economic and political blocs...

"[These regimes also] failed to understand that their main interest, and other interests of the ummah, can only be served through the power of a [unified] Arab body, and through this body's adherence to [these] interests...

"The GCC is the only Arab experiment with proven success. Even if it hasn't realized all its citizens' aspirations, it has succeeded in overcoming most of the obstacles in its path. It has become the most harmonious political and economic entity in the Middle East, maintaining its stability in the world's most dangerous and sensitive region. This is thanks to its preference for [finding] common denominators [among its member states] over sloganeering [, i.e., in contrast with the Arab League]...

"[The addition of Jordan and Morocco] is a smart move on the part of the GCC leaders, and it might convey the most important message of all to the Arab ummah – that the path to true unity begins here [in the Gulf]."[26]

Saudi Daily: The GCC – New Tidings for the Arab Ummah

The Saudi government daily Al-Jazirah also stated in an editorial that the GCC is "the next, and longed-for, option of the sons of the Arab ummah..." It went on to say that "the six GCC countries, along with Jordan and Morocco, remain the only ones that represent the original Islamic Arab path... and they have laid the foundations for how the future of the Arabs should look..."[27]

Is The GCC Decision a Move Against Egypt and Syria?

Some interpreted the decision to add Jordan and Morocco to the GCC as a move directed against Egypt, aimed at isolating it in light of Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-'Arabi's statement that his country wished to turn over a new leaf in its relations with Iran, and that Egypt did not consider Iran to be an enemy.[28]

Suleiman Goda, editor of the Egyptian daily Al-Wafd and journalist wrote in article published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "... What caused the six Gulf states to come up with this move was a sense of danger in light of Iran's incessant provocations of the Gulf, and due to the Egyptian position [on relations with Iran]...

"Dr. Nabil Al-'Arabi's statements on the future of Egypt-Iran relations were overly enthusiastic... and aroused clear concern in the Gulf states. It is true that he later softened [his remarks] and said that Egypt-Iran relations would not come at the expense of the security of the Gulf, and it is also true that, during his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar, Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. 'Essam Sharaf defined the security of the Gulf states as a red line...

"Apparently, though, this has not sufficiently calmed the Gulf states. Otherwise, the fear over the surprising Egypt-Iran rapprochement that still exists across the Gulf region would have dissipated, and would not have preoccupied the Gulf states during their recent summit – at which their political imagination led them, in an unprecedented move, to call on Morocco to join the council!"[29]

However, in an interview with the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Omani Foreign Minister Yousuf bin 'Alawi denied that the move was aimed at isolating Egypt.[30] Others claimed that it was directed against Syria, though the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh had denied any connection between his country's joining the GCC and the events in Syria

IV. Reactions In Jordan and Morocco To GCC Invitation

In Jordan, which is in the midst of a severe economic crisis, as evident in a massive budget deficit, rising debt, widespread unemployment, and low incomes, the news that it was joining the GCC was happily received. Many articles in its government dailies welcomed the move, depicting it as an economic lifeline for a country awash in debt, and as a means of salvation for the average citizen, who bears the brunt of this debt. These newspapers predicted considerable improvement in the country's standard of living – including cheaper energy, an issue that has been stirring popular protest.[31]

An editorial in the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour stated: "Jordan's joining the GCC countries will stimulate its economy by attracting Gulf investment, and grant it an historic opportunity to export its excellent experience and qualifications to the Gulf states... This is in addition to the possibility of Jordan receiving preferential treatment [in the form of] a decrease in energy prices, which will ease the budgetary burden on the country and its citizens...

"This will help the Jordanian economy make a qualitative leap, from treading [in place] to accomplishment, construction, creativity, and development..."[32]

The GCC's invitation to Morocco, in contrast, surprised both that country and the Arab and Muslim world; while Jordan had applied for membership 15 years ago, Morocco never had, and the issue of its membership had never been discussed.[33] The invitation also came under broad criticism in the Arab world, with many pointing out that Morocco and the Gulf states had nothing in common and were distant from each other in terms of both geography and mentality. Al-Quds Al-Arabi even claimed that Morocco had been "amazed and astonished" at receiving the invitation.[34]

Morocco's initial reaction to the invitation was indeed somewhat reserved. A Moroccan Foreign Ministry statement noted that the country had "received the invitation with great interest," and noted "the important and unique fraternal relations between Morocco and the Gulf states... and the solidarity that unites it with these countries." It added, however, that "Morocco naturally clings to the Maghrebi aspiration to build a unified Arab Maghreb – [an aspiration] representing the primary strategic option of the Maghreb ummah." It added that with these considerations in mind, "Morocco is prepared to hold extensive talks with the GCC in order to formulate an arrangement for the best possible cooperation with this important region of the Arab and Islamic world."[35]

Some saw Morocco's response as a rejection of the GCC invitation to join. However, within a few days, Morocco's seeming hesitation was replaced by a clearer stance. In a meeting with Saudi King 'Abdallah bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz Aal Sa'ud, Moroccan Foreign Minister Taieb Fassi-Fihri informed him of the GCC invitation; after the meeting, Fassi-Fihri told the London-based daily Al-Hayat that Morocco was "very determined" to join the GCC but that it would be a gradual process. He said, "Morocco and the Gulf states have a common and identical vision regarding the challenges facing the Arab world," and that Morocco's membership would be "a successful strategic step... that will serve the interests of the entire Arab ummah."

Fassi-Fihri also remarked on the distinction between the Arab republics that had faced or were now facing popular protests because their leaders had not met the people's demand, and the Arab monarchies in the Gulf and Morocco in which there were strong bonds between the leadership and the people. He criticized Iran for interfering in the domestic affairs of the Gulf states and Morocco, and added that Morocco, which had severed ties with Iran two years ago for this same reason, had no interest in renewing these ties.[36]

V. Opposition in Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan to the GCC's Decision

Alongside the joyous reactions to the GCC decision to add Jordan and Morocco as member states, criticism was also voiced, in Jordan and the Gulf states alike. On May 11, 2011, the day after it announced that the GCC member states had agreed on the matter, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported that the proposal had not been unanimously approved, and that Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman had asked for more time to study it.[37]

The harshest criticism appeared in the Kuwaiti press, which almost daily ran articles severely censuring the decision. The decision's opponents pointed to the cultural and economic gaps between the two new member countries and the Gulf states, the differences between their respective leaders and government systems, and the geographical distance between them. Also expressed were apprehensions that Jordan and Morocco would become an economic burden on the Gulf states and undermine their Gulf-oriented identity. There were also claims that the GCC should give priority to geographically proximate states, such as Yemen and Iraq, before adding more distant states as members.

In Kuwait, Ummah Council Members Demand Referendum on GCC Decision; Decision Harshly Criticized in Kuwaiti Press

On May 12, 2011, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas reported that Kuwait's political and popular circles were appalled at the plans to add Jordan and Morocco to the GCC, and claimed that the move would likely threaten the council's Gulf-oriented identity. It was also reported that representatives from across the Kuwaiti political spectrum opposed the move, and that members of the Ummah Council were demanding that the matter be decided by the council.[38] The Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai reported that some Ummah Council members had demanded that it be put to referenda in the Gulf states.[39]

As mentioned, articles appeared daily in the Kuwaiti press harshly criticizing the GCC decision. In an op-ed titled "The Beginning of the End of the GCC," Jassem Boudai, publisher of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai, wrote: "I do not understand, and I argue that many others also do not understand, the GCC's surprising announcement on the possibility of expanding to include Jordan and Morocco...

"We did not and still do not understand the reason behind this surprising move, and say that [such a move] can only be implemented by a forum other than the GCC... especially if this announcement is actually a political message [directed at] the countries of the region, rather than a message [reflecting] true cooperation based on common [denominators].

"If the [GCC member] states, which are close in terms of their customs, traditions, and regime structures, [as well as] in the nature of [their] peoples, climate, and concerns... have not succeeded, in over 30 years of close cooperation, in finalizing [plans for] a common currency, joint [import] customs, a common market, or other agreed-upon projects... how can these countries open [the GCC's doors] to new members?...

*"Was there any consideration of public opinion in the Gulf? Were bodies representing the peoples of the Gulf consulted? Did the Kuwaiti Ummah Council, the Saudi or Bahraini Shura Councils, or the elite groups... in all the council's member states discuss adding Jordan and Morocco to the GCC? Did the citizens of these six countries know about the decision, or did it take them completely by surprise – just as it did some of the delegates who participated in the advisory summit?

"We hope that these words will not be understood as hostile prejudice toward the Hashemite or Moroccan kingdoms. These are two countries [whose] political experience we greatly respect... but the cooperation that we seek [with them] must be based on common economic, social, human, and scientific factors that will benefit all parties, rather than [cooperation] based on the needs of a particular political situation and by means of which the countries of the region will deal with particular threats...

"How will some of the Gulf states resolve the issue of their lack of common ground with, say, Morocco, which itself has yet to find a solution for this very same issue with its own neighbors?... [Only] when the GCC member states have made significant achievements, after 30 years of cooperative work, will we be able to even think about opening the doors to other countries – while keeping realistic goals, abilities, and facts in mind...

"It would better for us to [first] put our own affairs in order before receiving guests or partners, and for us to begin doing so via consultation with our people at home... that is, with the residents of [the Gulf].

"[I am] left [to tell] an anecdote: The [Arab] Maghreb Union, which included [geographically] proximate countries, including Morocco, collapsed and disintegrated. The Arab Cooperation Council, which included Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Iraq, collapsed and disintegrated, as well. We hope that the haste of the [GCC's] latest move will not lead to the collapse and disintegration of the GCC."[40]

In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, Ummah Council member Dr. Hassan 'Abdallah Jawhar wrote: "The GCC's surprising and unsound decisions to add countries that utterly different from the character and individuality of the Gulf region will likely make the dream of the integration and melding of the Gulf states to vanish – especially in light of the fact that these new members have already experienced [similar] attempts in their own region, and with countries similar to them in many ways. These attempts that did not last more than a few months, and [ended] in fiasco..."[41]

Qatari Columnists: The Gaps in Culture and Standard of Living Between the New GCC Members and the Gulf States Will Harm the Latter

The Qatari press, as well, ran articles condemning the GCC's decision, though they were considerably milder in tone than those in the Kuwaiti press.

Ahmad 'Ali, editor of the Qatari daily Al-Watan, wrote: "There is no argument that the differences in culture and social traditions, as well as the gap in standards of living, between the [GCC] charter member states and the two [countries] invited to join as members is likely to have a negative impact on the Gulf societies. Therefore, these [countries'] membership... must be effected while... taking into consideration the present and future interests of the peoples of the region, rather than at their expense...

"We do not want a repeat of the model of the Damascus Declaration, stillborn [in] the atmosphere of the Iraqi invasion of sister Kuwait – which included Egypt and Syria along with the GCC member states, and which later was buried in the dark, and never spoken of again!...

"In order for the addition of Jordan and Morocco to [the GCC] to succeed... it must win popular approval or blessing, rather than [being dictated] from above..."[42]

Qatari journalist Dr. Ahmad 'Abd Al-Malik also pointed at the cultural gaps, governmental differences, and geographical distance between Morocco and Jordan and the Gulf states, and said that Yemen and Iraq should precede Morocco and Jordan in joining the council: "...The Gulf [region] must first get itself under control. It faces many issues that necessitate lengthy discussion...

"If over the course of many years we have not yet finalized the acceptance of Yemen as a full council member – Yemen, a neighbor and a strategic [factor] for the council member states – and if Iraq, which overlooks the Gulf and constitutes a strategic depth for the GCC states – do not meet the criteria for GCC membership, how can we facilitate the acceptance process for Morocco and Jordan?!"[43]

In Jordan, Muslim Brotherhood, Others Oppose Jordanian GCC Membership

The Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia views as a hostile element, heads the opponents to Jordan's entry into the GCC. In an announcement, the Islamic Action Front, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, warned that GCC membership for Jordan would constitute "a return to the policy of axes, experienced by the [Arab] ummah in the 1960s, which contributed to the schism of the ummah, the squandering of its energy, and the deviation of its compass – and which engaged it in marginal struggles that benefited only the enemy."

In the announcement, the party cautioned that the invitation to Jordan to join the GCC stemmed from "security concerns" and was aimed at "opposing the popular activity calling for reform, or aimed at dragging [Jordan] into regional conflicts, to the benefit of great forces that seek to protect their own interests in the region [i.e., Saudi Arabia]."

The party added that it was opposed to relieving the country's economic problems and creating job opportunities at the cost of "sacrificing our principles and the lives of [our] citizens..."[44]

Other political and social groups in Jordan also opposed its joining the GCC, out of fear that Jordan would end up serving as "a security arm of the [Gulf] rulers against their peoples."[45]

* H. Varulkar is a research fellow at MEMRI.


[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No. 678, "The Bahrain Situation: Media Clashes Between the Iranian-Shi'ite Camp and the Saudi-Sunni Camp", March 18, 2011, The Bahrain Situation: Media Clashes Between the Iranian-Shi'ite Camp and the Saudi-Sunni Camp.

[2] A statement read by GCC Secretary-General 'Abd Al-Latif Al-Zayani said that the council's decision was an expression of "the close ties, common fate, and unity of purpose" that the peoples of the GCC member states shared with Jordan and with Morocco, and that the member states' foreign ministers would soon meet with the foreign ministers of those two countries to finalize their acceptance as permanent members of the council. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 11, 2011.

[3] It should be noted that the Gulf states called to cancel this year's Arab League summit, but also led the Arab call to impose a no-fly zone on Libya, as well as the attempts to mediate between Yemen's president and the dissidents there. Al-Hayat (London), April 21, 2011, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 11, April 6, 2011.

[4] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), May 12, 2011, Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), May 13, 2011.

[5] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), May 11, 2011.

[6] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), May 13, 2011.

[7]As for Yemen, it would seem that the GCC's decision not to add it as a member at the present time is a result of the current instability there, due to the growing conflict between President 'Ali 'Abdallah Saleh and his opponents.

[8] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 15, 2011.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 12, 2011.

[10] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 14, 2011.

[11] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 11, 2011.

[12] Al-Rai (Jordan), May 12, 2011.

[13] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 28, 2011.

[14] Following reports of Pakistan's involvement in Bahrain, Iran warned Pakistan that its conduct would have repercussions on relations between the two countries. See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.3813, "Iran Warns Pakistan Against Recruitment of Mercenaries for Bahrain; Pakistani Daily: 'Islamabad... has Become the Frontline State for Protecting the Supremacy of Sunni Islam,'" May 6, 2011, Iran Warns Pakistan Against Recruitment of Mercenaries for Bahrain; Pakistani Daily: 'Islamabad... has Become the Frontline State for Protecting the Supremacy of Sunni Islam'.

[15] Al-Hejaz (London), April 25, 2011.

[16] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 23, 2011.

[17], May 13, 2011.

[18], May 11, 2011.

[19] Al-Hejaz (London), May 15, 2011.

[20] Al-Hejaz (London), May 15, 2011.

[21] Al-Qabas (Kuwait), May 15, 2011.

[22] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 12, 2011.

[23] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 11, 2011.

[24] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), April 12, 2011.

[25] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 13, 2011.

[26] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), May 13, 2011.

[27] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), May 11, 2011.

[28] Al-Shorouq (Egypt), May 16, 2011, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 17, 2011. See MEMRI Special Dispatch Series Report No. 3784, "Will Egypt Respond to Iranian Efforts to Renew Diplomatic Relations?" April 25, 2011, Will Egypt Respond to Iranian Efforts to Renew Diplomatic Relations?

[29] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 16, 2011. Egyptian journalist and analyst 'Abd Al-Wahad 'Ashour, who works for the Egyptian Al-Sharq Al-Awsat news agency said that, with this move, Saudi Arabia was trying to convey a message to Egypt, as well, namely that "if post-revolution Egypt continues its liberated and independent policies... the Egyptian work force in the Gulf, some five million citizens strong, will be replaced [with a work force] from Jordan and Morocco..." IRNA, May 15, 2011.

[30] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), May 17, 2011.

[31] Al-Arab Al-Yawm (Jordan), May 12, 2011.

[32] Al-Dustour (Jordan), May 12, 2011. An editorial in the Jordanian government daily Al-Rai claimed that "Jordan's addition to the GCC will enable [it to] integrate with the economies of the Gulf states and help create additional job opportunities and improve services..." Al-Rai (Jordan), May 12, 2011.

[33], May 12, 2011.

[34] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 15, 2011.

[35], May 11, 2011.

[36] Al-Hayat (London), May 15, 2011.

[37] According to the report, the resolution to accept Jordan and Morocco into the GCC had not been finalized during the summit in Riyadh and, following the summit, the foreign ministers of the member states had met in an attempt to reach a unanimous decision in the matter. Al-Qabas (Kuwait), May 11, 2011.

[38] The Kuwaiti members of the Ummah Council also claimed that Morocco and Jordan maintained strong ties with Israel, while the Gulf states opposed normalization with Israel. Al-Qabas (Kuwait), May 12, 2011.

[39] Al-Rai (Kuwait), May 13, 2011.

[40] Al-Rai (Kuwait), May 12, 2011.

[41] Al-Jarida (Kuwait), May 13, 2011.

[42] Al-Watan (Qatar) May 15, 2011.

[43] Al-Sharq (Qatar), May 17, 2011.

[44], May 17, 2011.

[45], May 16, 2011.

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