ANALYSIS-Arab dynasties lure Jordan, Morocco into anti-Iran bloc

Fri May 13, 2011 10:46am GMT
 

* GCC move to bring Jordan, Morocco prompted by unrest, Iran

* Jordan buffer needed to prevent contagion to northern Gulf

By Suleiman al-Khalidi

AMMAN, May 13 (Reuters) - Rich Gulf Arab dynasties have reacted to upheaval in the Arab world by inviting fellow monarchies Jordan and Morocco to join their club as they seek ways to combat domestic unrest and a perceived Iranian threat.

The announcement by leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Tuesday welcoming Jordan and Morocco as prospective members of the oil-producing bloc surprised many in Amman and Rabat, which have not seen themselves as being on a par with the wealthier economies of the Gulf.[ID:nLDE74B175]

Impetus for the closer realignment has been enhanced by mass protests gripping the Arab world that worried autocratic ruling elites about a contagion sweeping their region as former allies Egypt and Tunisia succumbed to popular revolts, analysts say.

Sunni Gulf leaders are concerned that Western allies could abandon them and back reforms if protests become widespread enough as they did with their longtime allies Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Jordan has long supported U.S.-backed Gulf security arrangements underpinned by fears led by Saudi Arabia of Shi'ite political activity as a channel for Iranian influence.

"No doubt the main motivation has been what has been happening in the Arab world and its repercussions. It's a signal that the security and stability of Jordan is not just a local concern. It's also a message of solidarity," said Nawaf Tell, director of Jordan University's Centre for Strategic Studies.

Ali Anouzla, editor of independent Moroccan news portal Lakome.com, said: "This looks like an alliance that will be against both geography and strategic common sense."

"Amid the popular revolts demanding democracy, it feels more like a political alliance aimed at preserving the stability and the continuity of Arab monarchies, the majority of which are led by prominent tribes and clans in their respective countries."

"People demanding change in Morocco have shown what inspires them: They have always carried Tunisian and Egyptian flags."

Anouzla said those demanding change in Morocco want a parliamentary monarchy, not a constitutional one, to guarantee a separation of powers.

IRAN IN THE BACKGROUND

Taher Adwan, Jordanian minister of state for media affairs, told Reuters that Amman backed the GCC's foreign policy and its opposition to Iran's meddling in the region. "Jordan had a clear stance that rejected any Iranian intervention in the affairs of Bahrain," Adwan added.

Naser al-Belooshi, Bahrain's ambassador to France, said both Morocco and Jordan had similar capitalist economies that complement the GCC, adding that their strong links with the United States and France could only benefit the world's largest oil exporting region.

Jordan's geographical position -- it borders Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia -- has been growing in value as a crucial buffer whose stability is key to Gulf security as the Arab democratic revolution shakes the grip of long-serving rulers.

The GCC, an alliance of oil-producing states grouping Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Oman, was founded in 1981 after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is linked by economic, military and trade ties.

While its attempts at economic integration and a common currency have been marred by political rivalries and rifts, the bloc moved swiftly to protect its members from revolts sweeping the region, sending troops to Bahrain to help the ruling Sunni Al Khalifa family quash popular Shi'ite protests.

In joining the GCC, Jordanian officials hope for help for their country's struggling economy under a Marshall type plan similar to a $20 billion package the GCC had already committed to help Oman and Bahrain, which have been hit by unrest.

While Jordan might expect financial benefit, the mismatch between its strained economy and those of the wealthy oil exporters may put another brake on efforts to harmonise their economies.

Plans for Gulf currency union are already stalled by political differences and are unlikely to progress for years.

The rise in oil prices has been a major cause of Jordan's growing budget deficit and officials hope closer ties with the GCC could earn Jordan, an energy importer to the tune of $1.4 bln last year, discounted oil prices.

But ultimately Jordan's ability to lend security help to fellow Sunni dynasties as domestic unrest unfolds, or in any broader regional confrontation, was a factor, analysts say.

The kingdom, with a record of stability despite signing an unpopular peace deal with Israel in 1994, has one of the best trained armies and security forces in the region.

It has already played a key role in bolstering security forces in several Gulf states, such as Oman, Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Hundreds of security experts are already seconded to some Gulf Arab forces.

Security sources say Jordanian ex-army officers have been sent to Bahrain, which faced widespread unrest in March from Shi'ites calling for greater political freedoms, a constitutional monarchy and an end to sectarian discrimination.

The Jordanian army has one of the largest U.N. peacekeeping forces while its intelligence department is perhaps the CIA's most trusted partner in the Arab world.

Under lavish U.S. funding, the kingdom has trained thousands of police officers from the Palestinian territories and Iraq and beyond to Afghanistan where it has the largest contingent of ground troops by any Arab country.

"Jordan can play a major role in the stability of the Arab Gulf region. It has been there in one way or the other. But now Jordan will become part of Gulf security in a more formalised way," Jordan University's Tell said.

(Additional reporting by Souhail Karam in Rabat)

(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

 
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