A Club of Kings: The GCC Plan to Recruit Jordan and Morocco and Unite All the Arab Monarchies Is Seen as a Stratagem to Counter the Growing Pressure for Democratic Reform in the Arab World-And an Expansionist Iran

By Blanche, Ed | The Middle East, August-September 2011 | Go to article overview

A Club of Kings: The GCC Plan to Recruit Jordan and Morocco and Unite All the Arab Monarchies Is Seen as a Stratagem to Counter the Growing Pressure for Democratic Reform in the Arab World-And an Expansionist Iran


Blanche, Ed, The Middle East


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THE GULF COOPERATION COUNCIL'S DRIVE TO expand by bringing Jordan and Morocco into the alliance, formed in 1981--in large part to counter the fledgling Islamic Revolution in Iran--has been spawned by the same fears, now writ much larger as Tehran is determined to expand its influence across the region.

The hereditary monarchies of the GCC want to expand their footprint in the Arab world amid unprecedented political upheaval by protesters demanding sweeping democratic and economic reforms.

The ruling dynasties along the western shore of the Gulf view this as a threat and it is this fear that must be seen as the driving force behind the unexpected expansion plan.

Two longtime Arab rulers, Presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia, were toppled in quick succession in January and February.

Three others--President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen, Col. Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and President Bashar Al Assad of Syria--are all on shaky ground as they struggle to keep their decades-old regimes in power.

These are all republican regimes, but the regional monarchies have also become vulnerable to subversion by the Islamic Republic of Iran, founded by Islamic fundamentalists in 1979, who overthrew the Peacock Throne of Persia and have ever since had their eyes on the other monarchies of the Gulf.

Since the Americans toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, playing into Iranian hands by removing Iraq as the main Arab bulwark against Iranian landward expansion, Tehran has been emboldened toward widening its influence on a grand scale.

New threats

Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, are already grappling with upheaval in Bahrain, aimed--many believe--at ending the 250-year-old reign of the Al Khalifa dynasty.

The Saudis claimed the trouble was the work of the Iranians and intervened in mid-March by sending in 1,000 troops with tanks to prop up the Al Khalifas, who, like the other Arab monarchies, are Sunni Muslims. Tehran saw that as a provocative move, since Shi'ites make up 70% of Bahrain's population.

There is also turmoil in Yemen, Saudi Arabia's non-GCC neighbour on the southeastern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, and also the most populous nation in Arabia.

Both crises are capable of destabilising the rest of the peninsula and threatening its oil and gas wealth, and therefore global energy supplies.

With post-Mubarak Egypt struggling into a new era, and even considering the restoration of diplomatic relations with Iran--severed in 1979--the year the Iranian monarchy was overthrown and Egypt made peace with Israel--the GCC states feel even more threatened.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia, which have vied for dominance of the region, have used proxies and covertly funded militias to undermine each other, as happened throughout Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. But this largely clandestine conflict has also reached to the western limits of the Arab world, the kingdom of Morocco.

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Two years ago, the Saudis claimed to have uncovered an Iranian plot to extend Shi'ite doctrine in Morocco and to use mosques in the North African state, the only monarchy in the Maghreb, for similar efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. King Mohammed VI severed diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic.

Sceptics abound

The way the Saudis view the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the US abandonment of Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, to his fate in the face of a popular uprising against his regime was yet another sign that the US could no longer be relied on.

The GCC offer was greeted, initially at least, with some enthusiasm in Jordan. The Hashemite kingdom, founded after World War I, has long sought closer ties with the oil-rich Gulf states to its south.

But in distant Morocco, perched on the shoulder of Africa on the Atlantic Ocean, the offer was a bolt out of the blue, since the monarchy had never even hinted at such a step. …

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