Jordan and Morocco have begun talks to join the Gulf Cooperation Council in an apparent bid to consolidate the power of Middle Eastern monarchies as fears of growing unrest continue in the region.
Economy and accession
At a GCC meeting in Jeddah over the weekend, ministers discussed a five-year economic development plan for Jordan and Morocco and agreed to form a committee to study accession procedures.
The two kingdoms are currently the only Arab monarchies that do not belong to the political and economic bloc.
Expansion of the group is expected to provide a number of benefits for both new and old members. But Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, says the main motive is to preserve the status quo.
“This was a call to unite the monarchies as this wave swept through the region of turning over old regimes," said Karasik. "Jordan is a very important country to the GCC because of its proximity. Propping up the monarchy in Jordan is a priority because of the possibility of what could come next if it were to fall."
Gulf states are worried that if one Arab monarchy is toppled, it could trigger a domino effect. Jordan and Morocco both witnessed public protests earlier this year.
In the Gulf, Bahrain also saw massive demonstrations, but the situation was generally brought under control when the GCC deployed its military wing, known as the Peninsula Shield Force, to help quell demonstrations.
A larger GCC would have a larger military to crack down on dissidents. Karasik says this appeals to Gulf leaders, who are determined to strengthen security within their borders.
“Now you’re seeing a new phase where you’re having the GCC states look at the organization in two tiers - an economic and security tier and a security tier by itself," said Karasik. "So, what we think will happen is that Morocco and Jordan will be part of a security pact whereas the rest of the GCC will continue to be an economic organization."
In terms of regional alliances, the group - currently made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar the United Arab Emirates - is the most successful model the Middle East has seen in the last few decades.
Its members are some of the richest nations in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product, thanks to vast fossil fuel deposits - a stark contrast to Jordan and Morocco, which both have relatively low GDPs.
Christian Koch, director of international relations at the Gulf Research Center, says it is difficult to predict what steps Jordan and Morocco may take to gain acceptance to the bloc.
“We really don’t know yet what kind of criteria you evaluate an application like that of Jordan in terms of joining the GCC," said Koch. "Are there going to have to be compromises that are going to have to be made by other existing members already? This is just completely unclear at the moment."
Benefits for GCC
In addition to the added security, the expansion would also provide a buffer against Iranian influence in the region, improve trade links and labor movement.
What’s more, Fayez Khasawneh, acting secretary general of the Amman-based Arab Thought Forum, says it would make tackling some of the most pressing problems in the region easier.
"Many of the developmental issues cannot be genuinely tackled on a country-by-country basis," said Khasawneh. "The very nature of water, the very nature of environment, energy and so forth - these are regional issues.”
GCC ministers say discussion with Jordan and Morocco will continue, however a timetable for accession has not been made.