In the face of the extraordinary revolutions of 2011, the conservative monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have gone into self-preservation mode, bolstering their defensive capabilities, recalibrating their security alliances, and expanding their partnerships. The counter-revolutionary chieftain of the club, Saudi Arabia, has taken the lead in organizing a patterned response to what it perceives as a populist and doctrinal attack on the existing order.
It is in this context that the GCC opened its institutional doors to Jordan and Morocco, which happen to share the same religious identification and threat perception and had long sought the financial benefits that come with GCC membership. Reliable allies of the GCC, the Jordanian and Moroccan monarchies have stationed thousands of security officers in the Gulf for decades – partnerships that the GCC states see as critical in this time of upheavals. For their part, Jordan and Morocco need desperately to address the fiscal deficits generated by the recent expansion of state subsidies and significant increases in civil servant wages and pensions.
Morocco as a Gulf State?
In Morocco, the regime cautiously welcomed the invitation to join the club of the superrich in the Middle East, in contrast to the more enthusiastic welcome Jordan gave to the initiative. Morocco has always enjoyed privileged partnerships with most of the Gulf countries, but given its physical distance from the Gulf, cultural differences, and close ties with Europe, membership in the GCC was never seriously contemplated, at least not during the reign of King Mohammed VI. The young monarch does not have the close personal connections that his father had with Gulf leaders, nor has he maintained King Hassan’s active involvement in Arab causes.
Mohammed VI certainly wants his strategic relations with the GCC to deepen, however, in order to bolster Morocco’s regional political power and the geopolitical framing of its conflict with neighboring oil-rich Algeria. The latter has used its oil bonanza to step up its defense spending as well as its diplomatic offensive in order to shore up support for the Polisario separatists and their secessionist claims on the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
In a tense climate of rivalry and mistrust, Morocco has been struggling to keep up with the Algerian military spending spree and maintain the precarious balance of power in the Maghreb. Deepening political and economic ties with the GCC will provide a major diplomatic, political, and economic boost. The Saudis are known to have helped finance several Moroccan military purchases, and further such assistance is needed. Morocco is also in need of an upgrade of Gulf countries’ financial investments in the Kingdom, as well as easier work permits for its legions of unemployed.
Despite the many advantages that a closer association with the GCC would bring to Morocco, the public reaction was one of bewilderment and derision. The timing of the initiative is suspect in the eyes of many Moroccans, who fear that Gulf monarchies are pressing the Moroccan monarch to scale back the reforms to which he committed in a March 9 televised address. Unlike previous promises, the king set out a clear timetable for enshrining the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary, and parameters for decentralization in the constitution. He also allowed protests to proceed largely unhindered, freed political prisoners, and empowered the National Human Rights Council and the Competition Council with additional competencies.