8. Jordan and the Arab Cooperation Council
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8 Jordan and the Arab Cooperation Council On February 16, 1989, the heads of state of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and North Yemen met in Baghdad to announce the formation of the Arab Cooperation Council (Majlis al-Ta'awun al-'Arabi).1 This chapter examines the Jordanian role in creating this new multilateral alignment and explains why the Hashimite regime seemed so intent on creating an alignment bloc for political and economic integration, rather than a more traditional military alliance. The formation of the ACC reflected, in part, a broader trend in Arab regional politics, as its creation was followed the very next day by the formation of the Arab Maghrib Union (AMU), which included Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. Both the ACC and AMU had been preceded much earlier by the creation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in 1981. The GCC included Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. In contrast to the ACC, both the GCC and AMU were more geographically centralized organizations, representing distinct sub-regions of the Arab world. Taken together, the presence of these three alignments within Arab politics meant that fifteen Arab states held membership in major economic and political blocs beyond the Arab League itself. Perhaps just as important, however, was the list of countries left out of these blocs. That list included some of the most politically restive areas of the Middle East and North Africa, such as Sudan and Lebanon. But most glaring in its absence was one major regional power: Syria. As one of Jordan ’s former prime ministers noted: The ACC was our idea. Given the emergence of the GCC and the Maghrib Union, only the very heartland of the Arab world was left unorganized. We decided to settle this gap first, then move on to coordination between the three councils . . . As far as membership is concerned, the GCC had excluded Yemen, and the North African countries had excluded Egypt from the Maghrib Union.2 114 / Chapter 8 From the Jordanian regime’s perspective, however, the absence of Syria was a hindrance to the long-term cooperation and success of the ACC, and this problem would eventually have to be redressed. Given the longstanding hostility between Iraq and Syria, however, the Jordanians were well aware that adding Syria to the alliance would be a difficult and lengthy task.3 One of Jordan’s former prime ministers made clear the dilemmas: Syria was in none of these groupings [the GCC, AMU, or ACC]. But we didn’t forget Syria. They accepted to join the council in principal. But there were differences in procedures between Iraq and Syria. Syria wanted to join the council, then normalize relations with Iraq; while Iraq wanted to normalize relations with Syria, and then let it join the council. But in the end, there was not enough time. Other events intervened . First the events of April 1989 [the International Monetary Fund riots in Jordan] and then the Gulf war. This changed everything.4 The formation of these regional blocs caused a great deal of speculation regarding the future of inter-Arab politics. There was considerable optimism and hope placed in the three alignments, which seemed to many observers to mark the beginning of a new era in Arab politics, an era dominated by practical steps toward economic integration and political cooperation, rather than by the ideological conflicts that had long characterized interArab power struggles.5 The 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, however, would shatter many optimistic predictions and throw the entire Arab world into greater disorder. But before events in the Gulf brought the ACC to a standstill , real progress was made toward political cooperation and economic integration.6 The statutes and bylaws of the ACC declared that the main goal of the alignment was “the achievement of the highest degree of cooperation, coordination , integration and solidarity among the member states.”7 The ACC Charter stressed the economic dimensions of inter-Arab cooperation, in contrast to the ideological-political bases of earlier pan-Arab attempts at more formal unification. Even more conspicuously absent from the Charter was any mention of military ties amongst the member states.8 As the following analysis reveals, however, the ACC did later move in the direction of greater security coordination. Nonetheless, at first all emphasis was placed on economic cooperation. All four member states came into the ACC highly indebted, and all were still suffering from the decline in global oil prices. While this most directly...