by H. Varulkar
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.
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. 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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."
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.Source: http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/5376.htm
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