In recent years Jordan has faced various challenges, including regionally due to the ongoing crises in Syria and Iraq. Jordan’s risks are growing in difficulty every day, not just due to the ongoing regional instability but also because of deepening internal challenges.
There is no doubt that security is the major priority, but Jordan’s economic situation is increasingly becoming just as big a threat. The majority of Jordanians are concerned about a lack of credible economic plan to assure them there is an end to the economic hardship that they have been enduring for so many years. While economic hardship is not new for Jordanians, it is difficult to persevere when there is a lack of coherent plan that gives hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.
It is always interesting to compare the current situation to history in order to analyze Jordan’s current situation. The link between regional and domestic in Jordan is extremely important to understand. In various previous articles I tried to emphasize the linkage between the two phases. Back in 1989, over two years the region saw three major incidents in the spark of the Intifada in the West Bank, the end of the Lebanese civil war with the Saudis shaping the Taif Agreement, and the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Economic issues sparked the April 1989 uprising in Jordan and an accumulation of policy mistakes and missteps pushed the latent anger and frustration into open confrontation. We are seeing similarly impotent policies and excuses today.
The signs of an economic crisis in Jordan were apparent for a while, and yet there was no effective policy to address the underlying problems. Once the regional threats were resolved, the internal issues were the focus. With the collapse of the Dinar and the negative economic impact fed the bitterness of people towards the governing elite and their polices, which included Marshall law. There was no incident or direct trigger to push Jordanians to protest. Jordanians are not likely to protest making political demands, but economic hardship will push people to desperation. Despite this, in the end the solution was political.
Comparing this to today, Jordan’s role in the region is shrinking as resolutions are made and alliances are changing without consideration for Jordan. It is important for Jordanian decision makers to understand that functional roles no longer work and that international politics are driven by economic pragmatism. As such, Jordan’s real challenge is to find common interests with other countries in order to survive. This will never be achieved without a new vision and strategies that leverages Jordan’s geo-strategic situation while also re-engaging with our neighbors, particularly Syria and Iraq.
Jordan needs to engineer an integral regional role in the developing peace negotiations by engaging with Russia, Syria and Iraq as well as the traditional alliances of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt. This needs to be done while also reshaping the relationship with the US based on mutual interests. Jordanians facing economic hardship need to see a new approach to external and internal challenges in order to continue to endure the hardship based on the hope of reprieve. Otherwise their desperation will increase.
Security is a key priority for Jordan, but with new terrorist groups forming and seeking recruits for radicalization, and Jordan’s increasingly desperate population will attract those groups to leverage their desperation, they will foster social protests and create fertile ground for radicalization and conflict. Jordanians do not currently have much anti-state sentiment, but further economic hardship and desperation could drive them to protest and attract these terrorist groups looking to grow again.
Dr. Amer AL Sabaileh