June 4, 2019
President of the Jordan-based Political Studies of the Middle East Center, Founder of the US-based Geostrategic and Media Center
The public outrage seen in the Jordanian street has been growing louder, alongside the state’s failure to fight the country’s rampant administrative and financial corruption. The Jordanian government has of yet been unable to reform and change the status quo, and change the momentum of increasing economic hardships, income inequality, and inefficiency.
Jordan put forth an economic transformation program in 2008, to privatize their most successful firms in industries such as telecommunications, water and resource management, and trade facilitation. Since 2008, naturally, the government has lost billions of dollars in revenues. The loss was not just eco-nomic, but has also implicated political sovereignty: any country which loses control over its sources of return loses political power and influence internally, regionally and internationally.
After Jordan closed its border with Syria, Jordan faced a real threat with the rising unemployment rate and international pressure on the government and the people to accept new terms and conditions to harbor refugees from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and other countries. This huge demographic bomb would be devastating to the original population of the country who would become a minority of less than 25%, and would deprive Palestinians and Syrians of the right of return to the homes.
Jordanian merchants and industrialists received threats from the US com-mercial attaché in Amman to stop trade with Syria, warning that if the demands were not obeyed, ac-cording to a law called “Ceasar,” Jordan’s position in the region would be aggravated. As a result, Jordan’s economic situation would continue to deteriorate, and unem-ployment rates would skyrocket, especially among the youth, which currently has an estimated unem-ployment rate of 40%.
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have demanded and exerted pressures on Jordan to impose more taxes and tariffs; thus, Jordan has lost a golden opportunity to change its foreign policy accordingly because of too much dependence on foreign aid which has twisted the country’s arm not to maneuver with its foreign policy. Economic hardships have overshadowed political ones which prevented Jordan from maneuvering East and West, seeking new alliances and playing geopolitical games to improve its negotiating status as Jordan rejects the idea of being a homeland for refugees.
Jordan rejects the “deal of the century” because it entails that the country relinquishes its religious and sovereign rights to Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. What other countries currently seek is to pressure Jordan by proposing both Morocco and Saudi Arabia to be supervisors along with Israel and Jordan on the holy sites in Jerusalem. For Jordan, that means political suicide. The reasons behind this are to undermine Jordan, in favor of the alternative homeland project to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict –at the expense of Jordan or, in fact, at the cost of trans-Jordanians, who are Eastern Jordanian tribes.
Sit-ins which broke out in the summer of 2018 have been a platform for demonstrators to voice their criticism of senior officials, who are seen as responsible for the deterioration in economic and political conditions in the country.
This prompted Jordan’s King Abdullah II to hold a meeting on Febru-ary 18th, 2019 with several former prime ministers in Al Husainiyeh Palace in Amman. King Abdullah discussed with former premiers on a range of domestic issues and regional developments. The meeting reveals the monarch’s concerns about people’s anger, which is escalating day after day against govern-ment performance and incompetence due to growing frequency of corruption and nepotism. Some poli-ticians interpret the meeting as brainstorming and diagnosis of ways out of current pending issues that Jordanians are undergoing, including poverty, inflation, unemployment, and the demise of the middle class.
Just the day before the meeting, the former prime ministers received the invitation to meet with the king. Some considered the invitation as protocol while others regard it as an urgent matter due to recent developments the country is undergoing: higher rates of unemployment and indebtedness, economic recession, mounting inflation, and taxation.
What reflects the urgency of the meeting, is that on the same day the king visited the Tafilah gover-norate where he met with representatives and dignitaries of the province before returning to Amman to meet the former premiers in his palace. The king was in casual clothes, unlike the other attendees, indi-cating that either the king had no time to change or that he seeks to convey to message that it is time for deeds and not words. The king called for self-reliance by providing a real economic reform process.
Such a meeting comes at a time the whole Middle East region is undergoing existential threats. The king recognizes that it is time to expand strategies to ensure the country’s national interests and secure its people against any future conflicts. King Abdullah expressed disappointed by some cabinets as they have not addressed people’s concerns and have not improved their quality of life. This could also be the reason for this urgent call for the meeting.
The meeting was attended by former prime ministers Zaid al-Rifai, Ahmad Obeidat, Tahir al-Masri, Abdul Salam al-Majali, Abdul Karim al-Kabariti, Fayez al-Tarawneh, Abdul Raouf al-Rawabdeh, Ali Abual Raghab, Adnan Badran, Maarouf al-Bakheet, Sameer al-Rifai and Aoun Khasawneh.
The briefing by Jordanian media was vague and provided somewhat insufficient information on the three-hour gathering. The king stressed that “talk about political reform is not a motto; there is a real will to develop political life in the Kingdom.” The monarch was referring to previous discussion papers about the necessity of political reform along with the eco-nomic transformation. He said, “We are all partners in achieving progress for the benefit of the nation, and we all have a responsibility to deal with the current situation and challenges facing the Kingdom.”
Notably, the king elucidated that the development of Jordan political life requires the cooperation of all Jordanians, principally the political elites. He referred to recent meetings with parliamentary blocs and civil society institutions, in which he aimed to motivate them to submit proposals determining politi-cal, economic, and social priorities for the coming years. The king echoed these same goals in his meet-ing with the ex-prime ministers, preparing them to adhere to their responsibility to make positive chang-es for the country’s future.
The frequent royal meetings with officials and former officials stand for a state of cooperation which the monarch strives to forge to enhance the dialogue among Jordanians to develop political reform. The meeting with the 13 officials is significant at this critical time, as the King briefed the audience in eight minutes about his perspective of the domestic and regional situation. He expounded that Jordan faces various security, economic, and social challenges that require everyone to stand together to confront these predicaments whether such officials are still in office or retired.
Amongst the top priorities for the King are the enhancement of the rule of law and integrity of the judiciary. Likewise, he stressed the commitment of all institutions concerned to achieve this by respect-ing the law, promoting integrity and increasing efficiency, not only in the security apparatus but in the judiciary system that disseminates parity amongst people.
The king called for the strengthening of the capacities of state institutions to develop their perfor-mance at all levels, including the implementation of a program to address corruption and administrative sagging. He highlighted that economic challenges are most pressing and stressed the role of the private sector to provide jobs and contribute to economic growth.
On the challenges facing the region, King Abdullah said that Jordan’s priority is to safeguard the country’s national interests. The most critical elements are the return of Syrian refugees and the recon-struction of Syria after reaching a political settlement. The King said that Jordan’s position is consistent with the Palestinian Authority and Amman will not be deviated from Jordanian-Palestinian interests, no matter how much pressure is exercised on both sides. He conveyed full support to Palestinian to estab-lish their independent state on their national soil, with East Jerusalem as their capital.
Jordan’s concerns were elucidated in the Dead Sea meeting of the four Gulf countries, Egypt, and Jordan at the end of January 2019, two weeks before the Warsaw Conference on Security and Peace in the Middle East. They are wary of normalization between Arab states and Israel when it comes at the expense of Jordanian and Palestinian conflicts.
The changing shift of focus from Palestine to Iran burns Jordanian political cards. In the meantime, the King is trying to open channels with Arab countries, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. He bids to strengthen Jordan’s relations with these four states, willing to build a regional bloc of four countries soon after political settlement in Syria. This could provide Jordanian diplomacy with other cards to play with. By diversifying Amman’s strategic options without difficulty, they can follow a more balanced approach to protect the country’s national interests.
The royal meeting with former officials is of high importance at a time when the region is undergo-ing many political, security and economic transformations which could lead to further conflicts. Espe-cially critical is the threat of more predicaments to Jordan, due to lack of regional and international fi-nancial support. The message of the meeting is that Jordanians should sit together at all levels to find a solution to their problems without depending on others to bail them out.
At present, Jordan is undergoing the most dangerous juncture in its history, and the country is now between the hammer of the Century Deal and the bids to deprive Jordan of the religious and sovereign right to supervise the holy sites in Jerusalem. Such a move would lead to internal mobilization and un-controllable escalation. The US should consider Jordanian people’s interest before the leap to the “deal the century.”
First published at the Russian International Affairs Council