The news of the Kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco possibly joining the Gulf Cooperation Council states was met with shock and awe amongst users of social media networks within minutes of its announcement. The new Secretary General of the GCC Abdul Latif Al Zayani, barely a few weeks into his job broke the news to reporters in Riyadh on Tuesday evening. But what will this expanded entity look like and what are the initial challenges and opportunities?
For the sake of clarity the term GCC 1.0 will be used to refer to the original six members of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and Qatar while the term GCC 2.0 will refer to the expanded entity that includes the previous six states as well as Jordan and Morocco.
Although no dates are announced yet, the new post expansion GCC 2.0 entity will have a larger population, enhanced pool of resources and a greater set of challenges. Through Jordan the GCC 2.0 will have borders with Palestine, Syria and most precariously, Israel. Through Morocco, GCC 2.0 will have borders with Mauritania and Algeria as well as contested territory with Spain in the towns of Ceuta and Melilla.
According to the latest reports by Qatar’s Doha Bank the GDP of the GCC 1.0 will this year reach $1,402 billion making it the world’s thirteenth largest economy. Although the economies of Morocco and Jordan would only contribute around $200 billion between them in aggregate the potential to develop the services, tourism, industrial and trade sectors in these two monarchies is extremely promising. Politically, the parliaments of Jordan and Morocco are, alongside Kuwait’s amongst the most active and empowered in the Arab world today.
The GCC 2.0 means that citizens of Jordan and Morocco will be able to visit, reside and work in the GCC 1.0 states without a need for a visa. Citizens from the two new states will be able to own property, shares and other assets in their fellow bloc states.
The GCC 2.0 area would expand from 2.5 million square km to 3.3 million square km and its population would almost double from 39 million to 77 million. Thus the population of the GCC 2.0 will be equal to that of Iran, to whom perhaps this expansion is intended as a message. Unfriendly Iranian rhetoric has increased over the past few months through announcements by high-ranking officials condemning the GCC and going as far as laying claims to the Arabian Gulf itself. Joint defense agreements will also likely be swiftly enacted within the GCC 2.0 to combat foreign threats.
Most comments on social media conveyed astonishment mostly about reports that Morocco may join the six-member club rather than towards Jordan’s request. The issue of the geographic location of the North African Kingdom on the other end of the Arab world figured prominently. There is also the demographic element in a country whose citizens equal that of all GCC states put together. A possible scenario would see an initial European Union-like quota imposed to avoid an influx of job seeking immigrants. This quota would gradually be raised to allow a full freedom of labour within GCC 2.0.
The skepticism that the GCC 1.0 States hold towards the Arab Spring has manifested itself in this latest announcement. The Gulf States are concerned by the rapprochement that post-revolutionary Egypt has been displaying towards Iran. After Tunisia and Egypt, the survival of the 12 remaining Arab republican regimes is not guaranteed and the remaining eight Arab monarchies recognise the need to enhance collaboration both on the internal and external levels. They have identified the GCC as the ideal body for them to make an immediate and exponential leap in political, military and economic relations.
In the mean time, the Arab League, itself a weak and discredited body will likely continue to flounder for the medium term at least until a solid democratic Egypt emerges. It would be a mistake though for the GCC 2.0 states to neglect the Arab League as an institution or the remaining republic regimes during this process. It may even be a possibility that the two entities of the GCC and Arab League eventually merge into one group.
After having spent a number of years as an observer state will a post Ali Abdallah Saleh Republic of Yemen, the only excluded state in the Arabian Peninsula be fast tracked to join the GCC 2.0 should it find its ground in the near future?
The GCC itself was created thirty years ago as a result of the uncertainty behind the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war and the absence of Egypt from the Arab fold due to the Camp David peace agreement with Israel. Today, the Arab Gulf States have entered another period of uncertainty unseen in the last three decades.
The Arab world will thus be split into the monarchical and the republican regimes. A new era is unfolding in front of our eyes. Will this herald a new Arab Cold War between republicans and monarchists? Or will the spirit of the Arab Spring carry forth into the new entity encompassing Arabs of the Atlantic and of the Gulf and propel us into a more promising future?
Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi is a non-resident fellow at the Dubai School of Government. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/SultanAlQassemi.