By Ala Alrababah and Ghazi Jarrar
In the past months, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has adopted an abnormally friendly approach towards Jordan. In a move that surprised many, Jordan was invited into the GCC in May of last year. Further, the gulf countries promised the kingdom 1.9 billion euros of aid over the next five years. Some interpreted the move as an attempt by the GCC to shelter the Jordanian monarchy from the region-wide uprisings. But why is it in the GCC’s interest that the Jordanian regime stays intact?
Firstly, Jordan’s domestic politics are of particular concern to the Gulf countries. Unlike Egypt or Yemen, Jordan is a monarchy. Real reform in Jordan would send signals to other Arab monarchies (all of which are in the GCC, except for Morocco and Jordan). Most of those monarchies have remained intact thus far. The GCC has reasons to fear that meaningful reform in Jordan will make a regional model out of it. Jordanian reform may lead to a domino effect phenomenon within the GCC, where desperate Bahraini or Saudi activists could push their rigid regimes towards democracy and liberalization.
The GCC’s concern over Jordanian domestic politics manifests itself in another way. The GCC has been skeptical of the Arab uprisings and democracy movements (except in countries that have hostile relations with the GCC, most notably in Syria). Thus, the Gulf countries fear the prospect of another friendly country leaving the GCC’s “reactionary” bloc to join the more “progressive” one. Consequently, Jordan will not only slip away from the GCC’s sphere of influence, but is also likely to step away from the pro-Western Arab bloc.
Moreover, if free and fair elections were held in Jordan, the Muslim Brotherhood would likely be the largest party represented in the parliament. This would anger the GCC. Saudi Crown Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz al-Saud showed his hostility towards the Islamic group, claiming that they are the source of the current unrest in the Arab world. Also, outspoken Dubai Police Chief, Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim has repeatedly attacked the Muslim Brotherhood. He is concerned that the Islamic organization is planning to rule over the GCC. He said:
“My sources say the next step is to make Gulf governments (their ruling families) figurehead bodies only without actual ruling. The start will be in Kuwait in 2013 and in other Gulf states in 2016.”
The second reason for GCC anxiety is that Jordanian domestic reform might alter Jordan’s foreign policy. In recent years, the fear of what King Abdullah II named the “Shiite Crescent” has escalated. As Iran’s influence has grown in Lebanon, Iraq, and even the Gaza strip, the GCC viewed Jordan as an important Sunni ally to fend off the Iranian-Shiite influence. The Gulf countries worry that genuine reform in Jordan may lead to the birth of yet another Iran-friendly Arab government. In fact, the GCC was probably disconcerted by former PM Khasawneh’s friendlier approach to Iran, as well as his calls for a diplomatic settlement of the Iranian nuclear crisis.
A good indication of the expanding Iranian influence is Iraq. To many, post-invasion Iraq is an Iranian ally. The GCC is fearful of Jordan bridging its differences with its Iraqi neighbor, which has used the recent costly Arab Summit to make a friendly statement to other Arab states. And while the current Jordanian-Iraqi relations have been rather hostile, any government change in Jordan may lead to this changing overnight. In fact, given the continuous disruptions of Egyptian gas supply, importing more fuel from neighboring Iraq might be a very reasonable option for future Jordanian governments. Such economic cooperation could be seen by the GCC as a shift in Jordanian foreign policy towards the Iranian sphere of influence.
In our previous article – “Resisting Force Majeure” – we explored the effects of supplying the Syrian rebel fighters through Jordan. We mentioned some reports of Gulf weapons and cash flowing through Jordan to the Syrian rebels. This indicates that Saudi Arabia and its partners have placed themselves in a confrontational position vis-à-vis the Assad regime. Therefore, it is possible to see that Jordan not only serves as a route for weapon supplies, but also acts as a buffer zone against the cornered president of Syria. The GCC might fear that real elections in Jordan may lead to an Assad-friendlier government rising to power, in which case Syria-bound bullets and riyals would not be allowed through the kingdom, and Jordanian policy might shift away from the GCC and towards the Syrian regime. Those fears are not unjustified. Many in Jordan believe that a foreign-gulf conspiracy is aimed at toppling the Syrian regime, and express their opposition to this plot.
The GCC might also fear that when Jordanians control their foreign policy the country’s relations with Israel will deteriorate. Saudi Arabia can use Jordan’s normalized relations with Israel for a variety of reasons. Evidently, those relations are helpful to Saudi Arabia when it wants to send aid to the Palestinians. Since Saudi Arabia does not formally recognize Israel, its aid to the Palestinians usually passes through Jordan or Egypt. Moreover, as the possibility of a war against Iran increases, the Saudis and the Israelis might decide to join efforts against what is now a common enemy. Despite recent reports indicating that the Mossad chief visited Saudi Arabia to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, the Saudis would much prefer to keep direct contact with Israel minimal. Instead, they would rather communicate with Israel via Jordan. Besides, in the long run, for a comprehensive peace treaty between the Arab countries and Israel, the different parties could ask Jordan to act as a mediator and a venue for such a treaty.
Finally, the Jordanian-GCC foreign policy cooperation extends to intelligence and military cooperation. For decades now, Jordan and the Gulf countries have cooperated through intelligence and military training. Recently, there has been increased cooperation on security issues, with reports of Jordanian security involved in suppressing the Bahraini protestors. Coincidentally, a retired Jordanian policeman posted the following comment on the Embassy of Bahrain in Amman page at the embassy-finder.com website:
“It has come to my attention that you are demanding police officers from jordan to join Bahrain police forces, if so, I am ready to”
The GCC is opposed to genuine reform in Jordan for two main reasons. Jordanian reform would be perceived as a source of instability in the Gulf states, and could shift the country’s foreign policy in a direction contrary to the GCC’s interests. But this leaves us with the question; since the GCC has major influence over Jordanian policy, what can Jordanian activists and reform-minded politicians do to liberalize their country?