Wednesday, May 11, 2011

God Save the King—or Emir, or Sultan

The Gulf Cooperation Council may soon be in need of a new name and acronym--something like the RCC: the "Royal Cooperation Council." In a press conference on Monday that I didn't notice until today, GCC SecGen al-Zayyani indicated the group's willingness to admit Morocco and Jordan, evidently purely on the basis of common political institutions. As if the long-time snub of Yemen were not indication enough, the GCC is finally admitting openly that its raison d'être was never economic cooperation but political coordination--a sort of monarchy cartel to parallel that of OPEC.

As I've argued previously, the ascension of Bahraini military man al-Zayyani to the general secretariat already signaled an overt change in (or acknowledgment of previous) priorities in the direction of institutional continuity and the capacity for cooperative military intervention--a la Peninsula Shield in Bahrain--in order to ensure it. Thus, in addition to its possible expansion to include all Arab monarchies--there is no word yet whether the Sultan of Brunei has been solicited for membership--which in any event seems hard to believe will actually materialize, the GCC also seems to be transforming into a more militarily-focused bloc. Indeed, in his very first statement upon assuming his new position some weeks ago, al-Zayyani said that "the Al-Jazeera Shield force [i.e., the one in Bahrain] is the nucleus of a Gulf defense force."

Here, then, is the upshot of the Western silence on Bahrain: a more unified and militarily-robust coalition of Gulf monarchies who have agreed to ensure mutually that their outmoded form of political governance remains viable through the Arab Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. One hopes that Western leaders, in their overriding desiring for "stability," can see through the fog to appreciate the long-term futility of such a measure. If Moroccan and Jordanian citizens felt politically-disenfranchised prior to their (still doubtful, I think) entry into the RCC, how are they likely to feel with the knowledge that, even if they succeed in pressing for political reforms with their own government, they must contend with a "Maghreb" or "Levant Shield" force ferried in from Saudi Arabia?

Moreover, if, as one must assume, the bargaining for Jordanian and Moroccan membership would go something like this:

Saudi 'Abdullah: If you offer your military services if we're ever in need of them, then we'll give you a lot of money to make your people happy. You know that "Gulf Marshall Plan" for Oman and Bahrain? We've got a couple of those with your names on them--hell, with oil at $100/barrel we can give you four each. After all, we're all Arab brothers ruling by the divine right of kings, you know?

Jordanian 'Abdullah: Ok, sounds good. We like money.

King Mohammed: So do we.

If this is essentially the bargain involved in all this, then the expansion of the GCC will be of equal interest to political commentator and political scientist alike. For we will see the emergence of an entirely new class of rentier state in GCC Morocco and GCC Jordan, themselves bankrolled by other rent-based regimes. What will be interesting to learn, then, is whether or how far the economic benefits-for-political silence model translates outside of the Arab Gulf.

Update: this AP story via ABC News offers good background on the Jordanian membership bid, summarizes most of the above argument, and also offers a few new details about the GCC Shield force, including that some 800 Jordanian troops took/are taking part under the Saudi flag:

"Jordan is in desperate need of the GCC's umbrella to ease its economic hardships, while the GCC wants Jordan's security and military expertise at a time of regional instability," said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi. "If anything happens in any GCC country, like the unrest that engulfed Bahrain, Jordan cannot intervene militarily if it's not a GCC member."

Last month, under a joint security pact, the GCC sent troops into Bahrain to support the country's king. Jordan is said to have sent a unit of about 800 police and army. The force, however, operated under the umbrella of Saudi Arabia to avoid being publicly as trying to crush the predominantly Shiite uprising.

Jordan is a vocal critic of Shiites, whom it accuses of harboring allegiance to Shiite Iran. Jordan's King Abdullah II, a Sunni and a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, was the first Arab leader to warn of an Iranian-influenced Shiite "crescent" stretching from Iran across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The country stands out in that curve of nations as having neither a Shiite population nor good relations with Iran.
And isn't an anti-Shi'a orientation the main qualification nowadays?

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