A recent Arab public opinion poll conducted by James Zogby and the Arab American Institute Foundation sheds light on Arab perspectives on key regional developments and has already generated interesting commentary. For example, CFR’s James Lindsay analyzed the various factors that play into the dramatic decline in Arab favorability of Iran.
The poll results help observers understand the context of another important regional development—the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) bid to expand by inviting Jordan and Morocco to join its ranks. I previously argued that Moroccan membership in the Council is not likely to materialize. The prospects of Jordanian membership, however, are brighter, and I examine Jordanians’ illuminating responses to questions regarding the GCC and its actions in an eventful 2011.
Responses to GCC-related questions reveal that although Jordanian citizens share the GCC’s opposition to Iran’s general role in the Middle East, they show the least enthusiasm for the steps the Council has taken to address this role and regional political unrest more broadly. Jordanians continue to view the GCC’s invitation effectively as a pledge from Gulf leaders to maintain Jordanian King Abdullah’s monarchic rule. Their uneasiness regarding GCC intentions, which has prevailed on account of the Council’s lack of transparency, likely accounts for this suspicion.
Citizens of all the countries surveyed with the exception of Lebanon have adopted an increasingly disapproving attitude of the Islamic Republic. In the starkest reversal of opinion, eighty-two percent of Moroccans held a favorable view of Iran in 2006, whereas only fourteen percent do so now. Seventy-five percent of Jordanians viewed Iran favorably in 2006; that number has plummeted to twenty-three percent in 2011.
There’s more. Jordanians on the whole believed that the GCC has every right to counter Iran’s moves. When asked what the GCC response to Iran’s role should be, nine percent of Jordanians responded that the Council should accept and fifty percent believed that the GCC should reject Iran’s attempt to stake out regional influence.
But beyond the shared animosity toward Iran, Jordanian responses to other GCC-related inquiries reflect either suspicion or outright disapproval of the Council. Although thirty-five percent of Jordanians see GCC assertiveness as a positive development and only thirteen percent see it in a negative light, more than half of Jordanians (fifty-one percent) are undecided on this issue. What might this statistic mean?
Since expansionism partially accounts for “GCC assertiveness,” any Jordanian uncertainty about the progress of Jordan’s accession to the GCC is reflected in this specific response. Since Jordanians continue to struggle to understand how membership in the Council could shape their country’s economic, political, and security landscapes, they have been unable to weigh the costs and benefits of potential membership in a meaningful way.
The poll further reveals that a majority of Jordanians disagree with the Council’s most controversial action in 2011—its March intervention into Bahrain to help control domestic unrest. Again, Jordanians agreed on a basic conceptual level that Iran plays a negative role in Bahrain; only three percent see Iran having a positive influence in Bahrain, whereas forty-six percent view this influence in a negative light.
Nonetheless, they disagreed with the nature of the GCC response. The poll asked whether GCC states “were acting in line with their obligation to a member state” or whether the intervention “constituted an invasion of outside forces.” Jordanians were the only group that had a majority negative perception of the GCC action: thirty-seven percent agreed with the former assertion, whereas fifty-eight percent agreed with the latter. This is in stark contrast to the sixty-seven percent of Egyptians and one hundred percent (yes, one hundred percent) of Saudis who agreed with the former assertion.
Jordanians’ negative perception of the intervention sheds light on their anxieties of what potential membership in the club of kings could mean for their ability to demand accountability from King Abdullah. The intervention illustrates that the GCC is willing to deploy the Peninsula Shield Force, a collective security force maintained by the Council, in any member state in order to contain threats to monarchic authority. Thus, Jordanians may feel that while GCC membership could bring economic benefits, it would also bolster security cooperation between Jordan and the Gulf, embolden King Abdullah to enforce domestic obedience, and ultimately constrain citizens’ ability to protest against the monarchy.
GCC actions—and looming GCC membership—color Jordanians’ understanding of regional developments. As relations between the Gulf and Jordanian governments continue to improve, the Jordanian street is clearly anxious.