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Ahmed Charai

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A Homegrown Arab Alliance to Settle Global Nerves

Posted: 10/18/2012 1:02 pm

AMMAN -- Capping his tour this week of ruling dynasties in the Arab east -- oil-rich Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Kuwait, as well as oil-poor Jordan -- Moroccan King Muhammad VI visits the desert capital Amman today at a time of crisis. As I write this he is inspecting the military hospital in Jordan which he established to care for refugees from the Syrian regime's killing machine, and meeting with some of the tens of thousands of displaced Syrians which Jordan now shelters. Later this afternoon, he'll aim to help curb the spillover effects of Syria's deadly civil war and ensure Jordan's survival: In keeping with U.S. policy, he is coordinating over $1 billion in aid to Jordan, a key American ally, which that economy will depend on while the U.S. faces economic challenges of its own. The Moroccan king lobbied for this non-Western grant aid throughout his visit to the Gulf this week. At the same time, he worked to build consensus on an Arab strategy to support Syria's rebels without enabling jihadists to hijack the revolution. Jordan, bordering Syria, will be the lynchpin in that effort -- but close coordination among the Arab world's dynasties will prove vital to implement and stabilize it, and Morocco's role as a go-between and enabler will either make it or break it.

These activities speak to a new alliance that is emerging among the remaining Arab kingdoms and emirates that survived last year's revolutions -- that is, the six "Gulf Cooperation Council" member states (Saudi, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman) and the kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco. Their collective reach spans the Mid-East flash-points that are of greatest concern to Washington: To the east, the Gulf states are a bulwark against Iran. In the center, Jordan straddles Syria, Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq. And far to the West, where revolutionary Libya and Tunisia struggle to democratize amid ascendant jihadism, Morocco stands strong, secure, and well on its way toward a European-style parliamentary monarchy. Last year Saudi Arabia invited Morocco and Jordan to join the Gulf Coordination Council as full members, offering a fairer distribution of wealth between the oil-poor and the oil-rich while asking all parties to join hands in holding the region together.

This initiative presented an important opportunity as well as a special responsibility to Morocco. Decades before Egypt established relations with Israel, Morocco under King Hassan II was the primary force pressing for an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. When the Gulf emirates had just begun to establish their own modern states in the 1970s, centuries-old Morocco lent the expertise of its police and intelligence apparatus to build viable security structures for those young nations. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, King Hassan worked behind the scenes to help the U.S. and NATO ensure that Arab armies joined the coalition to oust the Iraqi dictator. And years ahead of the Arab spring, the new and current king, Muhammad VI, initiated his own approach toward democratization -- fostering civil society, supporting human rights and political reform, and ultimately rewriting the constitution to split power with an elected prime minister. These last positive steps are the envy of the neighborhood today, while Morocco's larger track record has created a region-wide footprint for the kingdom as well as a strategic alliance with the United States and Europe. Egypt, engulfed in its own internal challenges at this time, no longer plays the regional stabilizing role which it did for decades under Mubarak. Influential voices across the Arab world -- from the Gulf to the Levant to North Africa -- are calling for Morocco to fill this vacuum, and reclaim its historic place as a broker of peace and security.

This week's visit by the king to the Gulf and Jordan epitomizes his embrace of GCC expansion. What's more, Morocco has a vision, warmly accepted by the other states, for how best to make use of the new alliance both throughout the region as well as inside the borders of the member states:

While a hardened Israel and a fractured Palestine remain resistant to peace efforts, Morocco wants to press the two parties to sit down and work out their two-state solution before it's too late. The new GCC alliance will equip Morocco with the powerful tools of statesmanship that are necessary to do so: It can leverage oil wealth and its own political development model to assist the Palestinians. It can offer Israel a gateway to the most powerful economies in the Arab world in exchange for Palestinian independence. And it has the credibility within the GCC alliance to make good on such commitments. Morocco is a Muslim country that supports the Palestinian cause, but also a friend to the Jewish people -- the birthplace of 265,000 Moroccan Jews who now reside primarily in Israel where their numbers have swelled beyond a million. The role Morocco can play will greatly facilitate America's own efforts toward peace -- and one day, God willing, relieve the next White House of this onerous responsibility.

During the current international standoff with Iran, Morocco stands firmly against Iranian ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons capability. The king agrees that all options should be on the table, and via his GCC, Jordanian, and Western partners, has been working to ensure the toughest application of sanctions. But Morocco also knows that the possibility of a military attack on Iran is real -- and believes that enhancing the military threat against Iran might be the last possible way to avoid war, by achieving peace through strength. To that end, Morocco is leveraging its security ties with the Gulf and warm relations with Israel and the West to create a highly intimidating military alliance. Iranians know this -- which is why they have singled out Morocco for acts of sabotage and destabilization. Those attempts have failed. Morocco has accordingly ejected its Iranian ambassador, setting a trend that other Arab states have followed.

But King Muhammad is also aware that in the long run, regional stability depends on building a culture of tolerance, the rule of law, human rights, and democratic reform. As an evolving constitutional monarchy, Morocco is in the unique position of offering political support to transitioning democracies as well as trust to its GCC partners who are at a more junior stage of reform. Thus the new GCC alliance, in the kingdom's view, is not only a support base for the less stable countries outside it; it can also be a cauldron of reform inside its community of members. The path toward change will be difficult for some of the members, much as it was and still is for Morocco. But just as NATO expansion after the Soviet collapse fostered political transformations as well as even greater military power, GCC expansion can offer a similar combination to its members and the region as a whole.

 
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