4 Min Read
* Gulf bloc plans talks on Jordan, Morocco memberships
* Move seen as uniting Arab monarchies against unrest
* Analysts see political boost, potential economic pitfalls
(Adds analysts, details, background)
By Asma Alsharif
RIYADH, May 10 (Reuters) - The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will consider requests by Morocco and Jordan to join its Gulf Arab political bloc, the group's secretary general said on Tuesday, a move seen aimed at countering regional unrest.
GCC foreign ministers will hold talks with the foreign ministers of both non-Gulf countries to "complete required procedures", Abdullatif al-Zayani told reporters after a GCC summit in Riyadh.
It was unclear what kind of membership they were considering.
Analysts said the surprise announcement of the requests may be a sign Gulf leaders are seeking to cement ties with other monarchies against pro-democracy protests that sent shockwaves through the Arab world.
"I suppose it's going to be a club of kings ... They are trying to shore up royalty in the region. No one wants to see the first domino go down," said David Roberts, deputy director of the Royal United Services Institute in Doha.
Gulf states -- such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait -- sent troops to Bahrain to help its monarchy which faced widespread protests urging democratic reform.
Gulf ambitions to contain the threat of regional unrest may have grown after their success in that Gulf island kingdom.
Gulf states remain concerned their Western allies could abandon them and back reforms if protests reach a critical mass, as they did when uprisings toppled Egypt and Tunisia's leaders.
"The GCC is increasing its more muscular role in foreign policy ... They are leading the counter revolution and it makes more sense for them to join with other Arab autocracies," said Shadi Hamid, director of the Brookings Doha Centre.
Some analysts were sceptical of the success of such a plan.
"This looks like an alliance that will be against both geography and strategic common sense," said Ali Anouzla, editor of the independent Moroccan news portal Lakome.com.
Hamid suggested the GCC -- a loose alliance which also groups Qatar, Oman and Bahrain -- may consider a two-tiered membership system.
Many observers suggested the partnership with the world's top oil exporting region may be an effort to boost the frail economies of the two non-Gulf monarchies, which have faced popular protests in the past few months.
"I can only imagine it would be massively economically beneficial," said Roberts, of RUSI in Doha. "That means Gulf states are extremely serious about helping Jordan and Morocco. If they care that much, they can show they care with money."
Morocco, an oil and gas net importer that relies heavily on tourism, enjoyed a steady flow of Gulf investments before the world recession. Signs the GCC would be willing to partner with the North African country might reinvigorate investor sentiment.
Jordan has long pinned its hopes on Gulf aid for its struggling economy.
The rise in oil prices has been a major cause for Jordan's growing budget deficit and officials hope closer ties with the GCC could earn it discounted oil prices.
Some analysts warned that a possible union may have economic disadvantages for the Gulf. John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Banque Saudi Fransi in Riyadh, said the GCC should take its cue from the European Union's economic crisis.
"The EU is learning the hard way from its premature expansion ... Greater economic harmonisation and collaboration is needed on the economic front among the current GCC states before further expansion. Enlargement does not necessarily lead to prosperity for all and the road can be arduous." (Additional reporting by Erika Solomon in Dubai, Souhail Karam in Rabat and Suleiman Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Erika Solomon; editing by Andrew Heavens)