Why Jordan set to survive its worst crisis in years
Jordan is going through its worst crisis in 50 years. The causes are essentially economic but unfavourable regional conditions have deepened it. There are more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Jordan and the attention of the Gulf countries is taken up by their own internal issues.
Jordan has also suffered greatly from the disintegration of Iraq. During the 8-year Iran-Iraq War, Jordan supported Iraq and stood by its side. Iraq returned the favour and provided Jordan with a great deal of economic aid, including oil supplies. Whenever things turned sour for Jordan, Iraq was always there. That Iraq is gone.
Iraq was the biggest market for Jordanian products and Jordan’s biggest money lender. Since that Iraq is gone and the current Iraq is bankrupt, Jordan finds itself shouldering the human problems of the region alone. The international aid it receives for hosting Syrian refugees is insufficient by any measure.
Throughout its history, Jordan has taken advantage of its strategic position in the region. Thanks to the role it had carved for itself, Jordan was able during the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s to ward off all attempts to destroy it, including the failed Palestinian coup of 1970.
Jordan is truly a survivor. When Arab nationalism spearheaded by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1958 overthrew the monarchy in Iraq, it could do nothing against King Hussein in Jordan. Nasser’s ideology was disastrous to all Arab regimes and, ironically, served only the interests of Israel, the very entity it sought to destroy. Nasser and his ideology are gone but Jordan is still standing.
King Hussein created something out of nothing. He founded a real state on lands with no resources. Jordan has always suffered from lack of water and the regional context was always unconducive for multilateral cooperation. With the presence of the Syrian guests, the water crisis and all other crises have been made worse in a country in constant need of aid. The kingdom had to provide all necessary services to the newcomers and Jordanians had to foot the bill.
Here is what makes the situation in Jordan particularly dangerous. First, there is the regional context in Iraq and the Gulf. To offset the expenditures caused by the presence of Syrian refugee camps on its soil and to balance its budget, Jordan needed outside financing but conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund and other international financial institutions would have made it impossible for any government facing generalised popular grumble to institute the painful reforms required.
Jordanian King Abdullah II did his best to explain the country’s delicate economic situation to his subjects. The government was not of great help, so the king dismissed it.
Surely there were parties who had worked hard to place obstacles in the government’s path. It is hard to believe that the Muslim Brotherhood is not guilty of that; it had a score to settle with Jordan. The Brotherhood used to have ties to the Jordanian regime but when King Abdullah contained the “Arab spring” in Jordan, the Brotherhood turned into an enemy of his regime.
We also can’t eliminate Iran’s involvement in recent events. In 2011 and 2012, it became apparent that Iran had its own proxy groups in Jordan and that it cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan to create instability. We know that Iran is always ready to exploit any weakness in the region to divert public opinion from its internal problems.
Iran has always considered Jordan the weakest link in the eastern zone of the Arab world and has wanted to use it to get to the West Bank in a move like using the Sinai Desert to get to Gaza Strip. The Iranian presence in Gaza is ensured by its faithful proxies, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The crisis in Jordan is complicated and is made more so by the fast disappearance of any prospect for an acceptable settlement of the Palestinian cause. Israel is defiant beyond belief and the current US administration could not care less about the disastrous consequences that a lightly taken decision, such as moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, could cause in the region.
Add to that that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is busy arranging for the post-Mahmoud Abbas era.
Yes, Jordan is going through a serious crisis, which is different in character from previous ones. Let’s hope King Abdullah surrounds himself with capable people to steer the country away from the storm.