When a Kuwaiti official said Egypt was a candidate for accession to the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) last week, the announcement was met with mixed reaction from a wide range of Egyptians.
Humoud al-Radhwan, head of the Gulf Co-operation Council Directorate for the Kuwaiti Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Kuwait's al-Anbaa daily on Sunday (December 11th) that Egypt is on the list of potential countries to join the GCC.
Some analysts said GCC membership would provide a boost for the Egyptian economy and affirm the country's role as a regional leader, while others rejected accession because of social, cultural, and political implications.
Dr. Wael Mounir, a professor of international politics at the University of Ain Shams, told Al-Shorfa Egypt's possible GCC membership is nothing new since Egypt sought to join the council 15 years ago in an observer capacity, but the request was rejected by Gulf countries.
He said this year Bahrain also announced its support for Egypt's candidacy in the GCC.
"The issue has been under discussion behind the political scenes and was only made public in a semi-official way to gauge the response in Egyptian political and public spheres to determine whether there is support for the idea," Mounir said.
"The accession would strengthen Egypt's security and military capabilities and that of the Gulf states, and increase intelligence sharing and development of military systems. Egypt is fairly advanced on the military and tactical levels, and the Egyptian Army has proven more than once, especially during the Kuwait War, that it possesses superior desert warfare capability," he said.
Mounir said Egypt's accession to the GCC would create a new powerful and unified Arab-Gulf front to repel any attempts at destabilisation.
Dr. Hamed Magdi, a professor of economics at al-Azhar University, said joining the GCC is squarely in Egypt's interests, especially at this critical period for the economy.
"Egypt will benefit from the increased capital because of a higher volume of foreign investment, the deployment of large numbers of Egyptian workers to the Gulf and the expansion of trade between the two sides because of the lack of barriers and customs restrictions," he said.
Magdi said membership would also benefit other fields such as scientific research, technology, and agriculture where Egypt has thousands of factories, existing infrastructure and a deep labour pool, which offers the potential for export to the Gulf.
"Inclusion [in the GGC] will provide an opportunity for Egyptian banks to expand worldwide because Gulf banks enjoy high credit ratings," he said.
The volume of trade between Egypt and GCC countries was valued at more than $2.5 billion during the first six months of 2011, according to a November report by the Egyptian Ministry of Commerce. Saudi Arabia was the top trade partner with a total trade volume of $1.4 billion including $728 million in Egyptian exports and $672 million in imports from Saudi Arabia.
Dr. Wafa Mohsen, a professor of political media at the University of October, said, "The entire affair is no more than a political manoeuvre because there are many obstacles in the way of accession, especially at this time."
Mohsen said Egypt's transitional phase could last at least two years, which would preclude the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Advisory Council, and the government of Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri from presenting a resolution to join the GCC.
"Internal issues, constitutional amendments, and laws are the top priorities for Egypt. If the accession comes to pass it would have a broad impact on many fronts because Egypt's political and economic alliances and relationships with many countries would have to be reconfigured," she said.
Mohsen said if the issue was put to a vote, Egyptians would decline to join regardless of the potential economic gains because the societies and customs are different.
"Egyptians refuse to become second-class citizens after the January revolution, which is what will happen if Egypt joins the GCC because Gulf citizens will view Egyptians as second-class Gulf citizens, and that is something Egyptians will certainly reject," she said.
Mohsen said talk of accession would be replaced by a package of agreements with GCC countries outlining co-operation on intelligence, finance, politics, and media to address future challenges and safeguard Gulf countries against adverse events in the region.