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Concerning and Unsettling Developments in Jordan: Population Growth and Demographic Shifts

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Eng. Saleem Al-Batayneh

Rarely do outsiders fully grasp the intricacies of a place, even the author of the book “Out of Place,” Edward Said, preferred to write from within its depths.

While demography does not solely determine our destiny, research centers, studies, and global intelligence circles tend to attribute significant importance to it. Regardless, a logical analysis of events suggests that the ongoing changes in Jordanian society and its demographic composition are stirring stagnant waters, giving rise to unanswered and legitimate questions infused with fear. In this regard, the state and its agencies remain silent witnesses. The number of inhabitants in Jordan has become shrouded in mystery, conspiracy theories, and suspicions of a long-standing scheme aimed at altering Jordan’s demographic makeup. Delving into Jordan’s recent history reveals the influential role played by population demographics and growth.

Despite its inherent irrationality, fear plays an indispensable role in our lives. Not everything we discuss can be comprehended and rationalized. Many aspects of this topic pertain to data that is still in the process of being formed.

Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that Jordan is undergoing a transformation accompanied by a new population distribution. Regrettably, the Jordanian national identity is being overshadowed by an overwhelming sense of apprehension.

According to the recent annual report “Global Trends” by the High Commissioner for Refugees and the World Bank’s report on development titled “Migrants, Refugees, and Communities,” issued in April 2023, an estimated 184 million individuals, accounting for 2.3% of the global population, currently reside outside their countries of origin, holding the nationalities of their host countries. Around 43% of them live in low- and middle-income nations, including Jordan, which hosts over 4 million individuals from more than 53 nationalities. The report highlights the International Labor Organization’s efforts in dealing with the intricate issue of mixed migration in Jordan, given its status as a country of both immigrants and emigrants.

Patrick Gerland, the Executive Director and Head of the Department of Population Estimates and Data at the United Nations, remarks that any figures regarding the true population size in Jordan should be regarded as naive assumptions, considering that one in three residents of Jordan is either a refugee or an immigrant. (These figures exclude Palestinians, as they are originally Jordanian citizens and hold national identification numbers.)

The implications of seeking asylum extend far deeper than expected. The phrase “the new Jordan” coined by former US ambassador to Amman, Henry T. Wooster, still sends shivers down my spine. The refugee camps in neighbouring countries and the region have a long history. Over the past years, both Palestinian and Syrian refugees have endured various hardships, including the evacuation of the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, with its inhabitants forced to seek shelter in Jordan, along with approximately two million Syrian citizens. Prior to that, the Nahr al-Bared Camp in Lebanon was decimated by extremist groups that actively promoted the destruction of the camps.

Numerous unanswered questions loom, demanding our attention. In recent years, discussions regarding standards and measurements related to population growth and demographics in Jordan have been prevalent. Yet, regrettably, no satisfactory answers have emerged.

Undoubtedly, the demographic landscape in Jordan has undergone significant quantitative and qualitative changes, with the map of population dynamics continually expanding before us. Both the American Conservative magazine and the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon assert that the engineering of class-based population shifts in Jordan occurred years ago, orchestrated through closed-door meetings held outside the country. Jordan’s geography, they argue, serves as a wide conduit that encapsulates the demographic consequences arising from wars and conflicts within the region. Jordan has been and remains a haven for refugees. The successive Jordanian governments have adeptly utilized the refugee card to secure political and financial support from countries worldwide. The influx of refugees and immigrants has provided ample opportunities for international backing.

However, not everything that meets the eye reflects the truth. The majority of Jordanians tend to discuss only a partial truth, believing it to be a complete truth. Yet, if we were to delve into the matter of population growth in Jordan, we would discover its potential to upend the table of assumptions. The state’s position on the refugee issue remains ambiguous and clouded by confusion, impotence, weak decision-making, and a lack of resourcefulness. Alarming societal problems, such as poverty, hunger, homelessness, begging, professional fraud, and theft, have surfaced, exacerbating the demographic imbalance, the full implications of which only God knows.

Jordan may confront serious challenges that could undermine its stability and jeopardize its security apparatus. The current stability, however precarious, could turn against the country at any given moment. The Jordanian national identity stands as a vital pillar, essential to the integrity of the state, its political system, and its sovereignty.

Due to various considerations, the Jordanian elites often face temptations and incentives to withhold the truth. They conceal their genuine perspectives when they differ from public opinion. Unfortunately, there are no indications on the horizon that the state intends to earnestly address this issue and bring closure to this worrisome matter—for our own comfort and that of future generations. Hence, clarity and transparency are imperative, as they can dispel the concerns that trouble us.

What lies ahead for Jordan, a nation encircled by a flaming belt that permeates every aspect of its existence? Will we persist in our current weaknesses when dealing with this complex issue?

Certainly, the answers are apparent; perhaps these questions are posed to stimulate contemplation, for the responses are multifaceted. While a significant part of the answer may be self-evident, some aspects necessitate further investigation and scrutiny.

Eng. Al Batayneh was a former Member of the Jordanian Parliament