A group of 19 Northeastern University journalism students – 13 writers and six photographers -- is traveling through Jordan and Turkey as part of the school’s Dialogue of Civilization program.
AMMAN, Jordan - For the past 30 years, the Gulf Cooperation Council has remained a powerful and wealthy bloc of Arab nations with significant influence in the region and abroad.
On May 10, the GCC opened its doors a bit wider, inviting Jordan and Morocco to join its
The invitations come at a time when Arab leaders have watched their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia, fall in the Arab spring revolts, and the Bahraini government struggle to contain uprisings.
It is unclear the exact motives behind why Jordan, a strategically positioned country that has remained relatively stable during the recent unrest, has been asked to join Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar after being shut out of the GCC bloc for decades.
But it is clear that Jordan stands to gain economically as a member of the organization. In the midst of an economic recession, Jordan, which, along with fellow invitee Morocco and other member countries, operates under a monarchy system, could gain access to the vast wealth and resources of the GCC.
"Culturally speaking, we are very similar," said Jawad Anani, a former deputy prime minister of Jordan and an economic expert. "As members we can contribute more and can benefit more."
On May 25, 1981, the six original members signed the charter of the GCC, forming a coalition of wealthy monarchies. According to their charter, the GCC's objectives are to "effect coordination, integration, and inter-connection between member states…deepen and strengthen relations" and formulate similar regulations on commerce, customs, communication, education, and culture.
"When the GCC was first created, many Arab countries who didn't join, they saw it as a 'rich man's club'," said Anani.
Though the member states share wealth and resources, they also share security forces. Situated in a region plagued with ethnic and religious conflicts, the Sunni states of the Gulf joined forces following the rise of the Shia during the Iranian Revolution in 1979.
"The creation of the GCC was prompted by security considerations," said Anani. "The main motive for creating this was to help the Gulf states join forces and act in unison against the Iranian front."
Jordan has already contributed to the Gulf defense. Jordan has one of the best-trained militaries in the Arab region, and assists GCC member states in military training and operations.
When Bahrain faced an uprising this spring, a group consisting mainly of Shias, the Council sent a force to support the king, a force that included a unit of Jordanian soldiers.
"As for security, this has always been the case," said Anani. "In a way, they have already been joining forces in Bahrain, working with the Gulf as a very strong security force."
Jordan's former Minister of Planning Tahar Kanaan said that Jordanian workers can replace non-Arab immigrants filling positions in GCC member states and sending wages back home.
"There is a lot of talent in the Jordanian labor force, immense, if Jordan becomes a full member or something like approaching a full member and enjoying movement of labor. That would be a great boost for the economy in the way of remittances that would be dispatched by Jordanians working in GCC countries, " said Kanaan, pointing out that Jordanian workers would have "more affinity than non-Arab workers."
Jordan, currently facing a $2 billion deficit, is in an economic recession. In addition, it has limited access to water and energy. Joining the GCC will hopefully allow Jordan access to the vast resources of member states.
"Major economic improvement can come," said Anani, "not only in the budget or in the deficit, but it is the shortage of water and energy resources. "
It is clear that both sides will benefit from the possible acceptance of Jordan into the GCC, but the reason behind the sudden openness of the Council is still unclear. With the recent unrest caused by the democratic revolutions, many of the monarchies of the GCC are concerned for the security of their regimes.
According to Anani, governments fall into two schools of thought regarding these sweeping democratic changes: revolutionary, which calls for regime change; and evolutionary, where reform can take place from within.
"The Gulf states, which subscribe to the second school of thought, see these countries who think like them and are joining forces," said Anani. "This ascension strengthens the forces which call for maintaining and effecting change gradually and from within."
Jordan has avoided the mass "Arab Spring" protests, although there have been some protests over economic conditions in the country.
"They want to put Jordan in a position to move out from fragility," said Kanaan.
Little has been said about how each of the member nations feels about Jordan joining their ranks. But according to Badar Al-Madi of the University of Jordan, Kuwait and Oman may have issues with Jordan's decision to support Sadaam Hussein during Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The terms of membership have not been announced yet, and it is still uncertain what type of role Jordan or Morocco will play in the GCC or if they will receive the same benefits available to current member states.
"There are the economic advantages that might happen or might not happen depending on the reading of the treaty and what provisions might emerge later on for conditions for membership," said Kanaan. "It will take a very long time for this to happen."
With this uncertainty comes the fear that the invitation is just a political ploy by the GCC, merely a symbolic show of unity among the ruling Arab monarchies against the democratic revolutions sweeping the region.
"The benefits of joining are the benefits of joining an economic union.That's what is good for everybody," said Kanaan. "If it is just cosmetics and it goes into the politics of association, then it is not serious and it will get nobody nowhere. It will be just propaganda value."
To read more from the Northeastern students: http://northeasternuniversityjournalism2011.wordpress.com/
To learn how to contribute to Passport, email Patricia Nealon at email@example.com.