A gathering of Kings
In the din and bustle of US-GCC summit, many didn’t notice the 'other summit' which was equally, if not more important
As the international media mostly paid attention to the US-GCC summit – held in Riyadh on Thursday – many didn’t notice the “other summit” which was equally, if not more, important. As the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders gathered alongside the Moroccan delegation to Riyadh, led by King Mohamed VI, the similarities between the allies must be noted.
Perched a few kilometres south of Europe at the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco has always heralded its identity as the westernmost bastion of the Arabs. The first country to recognize the Independence of the United States and the United Kingdom’s oldest Muslim and Arab ally, Morocco will always be of immense strategic importance to both East and West.
In 1631 the people of the desert oasis of Tafilalt in Morocco invited Sharif Ibn Ali, whose family hailed from Taif in the Hejaz, to be their Prince. His successors, similar to Morocco’s Sharifian leaders since the year 788, went on to rule the Sultanate, now Kingdom, of Morocco. A great number of Morocco’s Arab population have similar such links to the Arabian Peninsula, a bond that has prevailed to this day through a shared history, language and religion.
Politically the Moroccan case is similarly pertinent to the GCC, the longevity of the Kingdom has fascinated political scientists for decadesZaid M. Belbagi
With the Islamic world in a state of crisis and Iran calling the shots in three Arab capitals, Arab powers must close ranks to see through current difficulties. Militarily, the argument is clear. In 2011, GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Zayani noted that the organization “had opted for expansion” so as to incorporate the Kingdoms of Morocco and Jordan. This is all the more necessary given how the region has since destabilised further.
A formal Jordanian, Moroccan and GCC Joint Command would have significant military implications, amounting to an addition of 285,000 active personnel under the GCC umbrella. This would put the organizational total at 634,000. Though the calculation of military strength is more complex, this influx of manpower demonstrates one of the advantages of expansion.
Jordan and Morocco have experienced and disciplined armed forces and would supply much-needed human resources to the GCC states whose mission capability and deterrent value are under development.
Politically the Moroccan case is similarly pertinent to the GCC, the longevity of the Kingdom has fascinated political scientists for decades. As a conservative, Islamic, yet ever adapting political model, Morocco has illustrated a marked ability to shift with times.
This alongside perfectly preserving its traditions and customs alongside expanding the country’s place in the world. Faced with the stark post-revolutionary environments in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, Arab monarchies have a choice to guide their societies to prosperity as others succumb to destabilising forces.
Given the surge in Islamic movements, the Arab monarchies are faced with an opportunity not a dilemma. They must not be undermined by the Islamic movements, but rather lead the way in preserving their own conservative identity and that of their societies. What underscores such a policy is ideology. The conservatism of the Islam is not without parallel amongst the values of the Arab monarchies.
In this regard, the Moroccan path toward development whilst retaining tradition and conservatism is a model to be embraced. The rapid globalization of the Gulf states in the last three decades has transformed local dynamics. It is therefore crucial that rulers lead the forces of tradition and conservatism especially in the face of extremists whose model is incompatible with development and building societies based on respect.
Essentially, Arab monarchies have an opportunity to harness the youthful energy that has swept the region. In the interests of survival, these monarchies, all led by Muslim rulers, have an opportunity to pacify fundamentalist political forces. Through pressing the Islamists to renounce extremist ideals and terrorism they can seek to build cohesive societies in a region plagued with instability.
The Moroccan case provides a working example of such a model, the old Kingdom is characterized by tolerance, especially given its multi-confessional and ethnically diverse population. The crown and the Moroccan nation are partners, which work together to preserve the dynamics of this very unique of Kingdoms.
There has never been a greater need for such inclusive politics in the Arab world.
Zaid M. Belbagi is a government communications expert with experience in providing strategic advice in the Gulf. Belbagi is a graduate of the Oxford University Foreign Service Programme (OUFSP), having earned a Masters degree in diplomatic studies from St. Antony's College, Oxford. A commentator on Gulf affairs, he is a fellow at the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) and formerly a visiting scholar at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS). He regularly appears on TV.