x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Jordanians: GCC entry is money in the bank

Two-thirds of Jordanians polled hoped some sort of aid would be forthcoming if their country joined the GCC, a poll found.

ABU DHABI // As they consider the possibility of joining the Gulf Co-operation Council, it seems Jordanians have an eye on their wallets.

Two-thirds (67 per cent) expect development funding or aid to come with GCC membership. But expectations of what membership would bring vary widely between the mooted new members - Morocco and Jordan - and those already in the club, according to the survey compiled for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab ("Arabs' Pulse") programme by YouGov Siraj.

Jordanians may be in luck, too. On June 2, shortly after the survey was undertaken, Saudi Arabia granted US$400 million in aid to support Jordan's economy and ease its budget deficit.

Yet Jordanians might be wise not to get their hopes up too soon, warned Dr Kristian Koch, director of international studies at the Gulf Research Centre.

"We are still jumping the gun here," he said. "The details about how Jordan and Morocco would join the GCC have not been discussed or released.

"As the survey results make clear, there are immediate expectations that are raised when talking about a possible expansion."

With an annual gross domestic product of US$29bn, Jordan's economy is dwarfed by those of the existing GCC, which together come to nearly US $1 trillion. With that kind of gap, 70 per cent of Jordanians expect GCC investment following a union, and 71 per cent are hoping for cheaper oil and gas.

Some senior economists, though, saw little benefit for the GCC. "If these two economies join the GCC, they are likely to benefit from political patronage and will emerge as clear winners in the transaction," said Dr Tarek Coury, an economist at the Dubai School of Government.

"On the other hand, the GCC may not see direct economic benefits from these two countries joining the union, as the Gulf relies on a diversified workforce without the benefit of a larger union and has access to a pool of talent from around the world.

"Given the vast differences in their respective economic landscapes, a common monetary policy would be equally hard to justify on economic grounds as Jordan's and Morocco's economies are subject to different external shocks and in general are not in sync with the economies of the Gulf".

Forty-one per cent Gulf nationals think that Jordan will benefit from cheaper GCC oil and gas reserves. Seventy-three per cent of Jordanians believe membership would give their compatriots better job opportunities.

Asked whether or not Jordan would benefit, the results between states appeared to converge. Sixty-six per cent of Gulf nationals believe Jordan would prove beneficial to the GCC if it became a member. Thirteen per cent thought the GCC would benefit a lot, 23 per cent a bit, and 30 per cent not very much.

Saudis were the most positive, perhaps thanks to the closer links between the two kingdoms. Seventy-one per cent of Saudis viewed the move positively.

Jordanians showed overwhelming support for the initiative, with 97 per cent saying the GCC would benefit from Jordanian membership.

And well they might. Of those who believed Jordan has something to offer the Gulf, 34 per cent of GCC nationals believe it could provide better access to skilled professionals - and 65 per cent of Jordanians concurred.

Thirty-nine per cent of Bahrainis, on the other hand, viewed the move negatively, believing that inviting Jordan to the GCC would in no way benefit the union.

Jordanians are sure (99 per cent) they would benefit, and GCC nationals (86 per cent) only slightly less so. One in six (17 per cent) Bahrainis disagreed, however, saying Jordan would not benefit - perhaps scarred by recent experiences with GCC intervention in their nation.

The prospect of Morocco joining the council met with more mixed reactions. Twenty-five per cent of Gulf nationals believe the GCC would in no way benefit from having Moroccan membership - and Bahrainis (37 per cent) were particularly firm in that view.

The perspective is rosier from Morocco. In a clear display of national pride, 93 per cent of Moroccans believe the GCC would benefit from admitting Morocco. And 95 per cent of Moroccans believe their nation's admission would benefit the GCC too, a view shared by 82 per cent of Gulf nationals.

This eastward gaze contrasts with assurances from the Moroccan government that it is committed to its role in the Maghreb Union - an organisation that looks towards Europe, not the Gulf, for assurance.

The Moroccan enthusiasm for GCC membership came as a surprise to Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow on the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham House, a think-tank in London. "It seems very surprising that 95 per cent of Moroccans would favour joining the GCC," she said. "This is likely to reflect positive perceptions of the potential for economic benefits.

"The GCC countries have become increasingly important investors in Morocco in recent years, although most of Morocco's trade is with the EU.

"However, some Moroccan civil society groups are concerned that GCC membership could hinder political reforms."