x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Potential new GCC additions may be received warily: poll

People living in GCC countries are not that interested in adding new countries, a new survey has found.

ABU DHABI // A survey has revealed a wide gap in enthusiasm between member states of the GCC and those that may soon join.

Last month it was announced that Jordan and Morocco had been invited to enter talks to join the GCC. But the survey - compiled for Al Aan TV's Nabd al Arab, or "Arabs' Pulse" programme by YouGov Siraj - reveals only 16 per cent of GCC nationals want Jordan to join, and even fewer, 11 per cent, support Moroccan membership.

Jordanians were the most positive about the move, with 73 per cent of those surveyed wanting their country to join. Moroccans were almost as enthusiastic, with 70 per cent wanting the kingdom to become a member of the GCC.

But respondents thought there were limits, not least of which was any surrender of sovereignty. Slightly more than half (51 per cent) of Gulf nationals thought Jordan and Morocco would join only if it had no impact on their sovereignty, while 69 per cent of Jordanians and 66 per cent of Moroccans agreed.

There are also questions in Gulf minds about whether the two countries are the best candidates for membership.

Morocco, in particular, may not seem the most obvious additional to the regional club, with the country's central point being more than 5,000km away from that of Saudi Arabia.

There was more enthusiasm for Iraq (24 per cent) or Yemen (18 per cent) joining the GCC than Jordan or Morocco.

Jane Kinninmont, a senior research fellow on the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House, said the preference for Iraq and Yemen implied "Gulf nationals regard the Gulf identity of the union as particularly important, rather than the focus on regime type, such as monarchy".

That wariness is hardly surprising, according to Nasser al Shaikh, the former director general of the Dubai Department of Finance.

"There's an Arabic saying that goes, 'man is an enemy of what he is ignorant of'," he said. "We are yet to understand the basis on which Jordan's application to join the GCC was initially accepted and Morocco was invited.

"There are more differences between the two candidate nations and the current six GCC nations based on the GCC we've known of the past 30 years.

"Everyone understands the political aspect of such a move but is rather worried about losing the economic integration GCC states had achieved thus far."

Mhamed Biygautane, a Moroccan research associate at the Dubai School of Government, said the "geographic, cultural and societal differences between Moroccans and Gulf citizens are undeniable and form a barrier towards achieving this membership plan".

But Mr Biygautane said the lack of clarity about the terms of membership and its scope had "also added to the fear and uncertainty of the Gulf people and their hesitance to accept the idea of adding a liberal North African country to the union".

Some 44 per cent of Gulf nationals would rather have none of 11 listed countries - which also included Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Libya and the Palestinian Territories - join the GCC.

But 65 per cent of Gulf nationals said they thought Jordan was likely or certain to join, compared with 96 per cent of Jordanians.

Dr Kristian Koch, the director of international studies at the Gulf Research Center, says that disconnect means "open debate about the future of the GCC and what is expected of it" is needed, so the GCC can "respond to the will of the people for deeper and more substantive regional integration".

With Morocco, 42 per cent of Gulf nationals believe it will not, or is unlikely to join the GCC, compared with 16 per cent of Moroccans.

If new countries do join, there will be a question of what role they should take in the union. Some 11 per cent of Gulf nationals believe they should be granted an equal voice immediately, while 45 per cent favour a more gradual influence.

Perhaps surprisingly, Jordanians and Moroccans were more cautious, with 17 per cent of Jordanians and 22 per cent of Moroccans believing new members should receive immediate equality, while 56 and 58 per cent, respectively, favoured a staggered approach.

A quarter of Gulf nationals said new members should not receive an equal voice at all.

hhamid@thenational.ae