Jordan pins hopes on Gulf Arab aid as changes loom
While political parlours in Amman are abuzz with names of likely departing government figures and their replacements, the attention of most Jordanian citizens is focused on surviving the day and improving their living conditions.
The expected changes follow a breakthrough in relations between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The countries signed a protocol for the creation of an investment fund that will channel Saudi capital to Jordanian priority economic sectors.
More than 95% of Jordanians support the objective and, as revealed by previous surveys, have shown a strong desire to join the Gulf region’s club of rich kingdoms. Recently, however, Jordanians, including some top officials, expressed frustration and disappointment with the Gulf countries’ assistance to Jordan compared to their generous aid to other Arab countries, such as Egypt.
The complaints became louder following King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s April visit to Egypt. A number of agreements between Egypt and Saudi Arabia — worth a total of $25 billion — were signed in addition to a deal on a trans-Red Sea bridge project that would link Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Cairo also returned the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.
Four days later, Saudi Minister of Defence Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz went to Aqaba where he met with King Abdullah II. He gave assurances to the Hashemite king about maintaining and nurturing strong relations between the two countries.
The meeting was a follow-up to Abdullah’s official visit to Riyadh on April 27th, when he was warmly welcomed. A number of bilateral agreements, perhaps the most important of which set up the investment fund, were signed during the visit.
Some former top government officials recently warned of a looming economic bankruptcy. The ratio of public debt to the gross domestic product in Jordan is 95%. The government’s public deficit continues to grow and trade in Jordan has suffered since the closing of the borders with Syria and Iraq.
Previous economic reforms failed to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty. The situation has been made worse by the presence of 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Amman considers its relations with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as the life-saving buoys that will keep the country afloat in a catastrophic economic storm. It is for this reason that Jordanian diplomacy spared no effort in plugging breaches in the kingdom’s relations with the Gulf countries.
A sudden decision to recall Jordan’s ambassador to Tehran was taken in protest against Iran’s aggressive policies towards them. The crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and sealing off its offices are believed to be in keeping with the kingdom’s policy of rapprochement with the Gulf nations.
Observers in Amman say Jordan is in dire need to address its economic crisis, particularly in light of predictions about the spread of extremist thought, which is widespread in Jordanian society. The country is running the risk of becoming an incubator for terrorist groups.
It seems decision-makers in the country are fully cognizant of the risk to Jordan’s security and stability. Official sources said Jordan’s international allies — the United States and the European Union — as well as its regional allies — Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries — understand and accept the kingdom’s point of view.