The Bahraini capital of Manama will be the center of attention for most of the region next week. The US-led workshop is the first of a series of possible upcoming events to build a framework for a long-term regional peace deal based on economic development.
Pulling together this economic workshop in Manama as an indirect effort to kick start the peace process is something the region desperately needs. The political components of a peace deal are not at the center of discussions and limiting the discussion to economic issues has sparked further disputes over the political issues, as well as whether the economic prioritization is a smokescreen for a deal with no political incentives.
History has proven that the political issues are not easily resolved, but that does not necessarily mean that economic incentives can offer long term sustainable solutions. Economic factors are clearly top of mind today, especially given the deteriorating economic situation as a result of failed development processes that have negatively impacted the financial situation and day to day lives of people in the region. However, any successful plan must satisfy the people who need to be protagonists rather than antagonists of the process.
Regardless of the workshop in Manama, Jordan must find effective approaches to solve its issues around development, transport, energy, resources, agriculture and even tourism. These problems cannot be effectively addressed and progressed without a broader approach which connects Jordan to the rest of the region and from there to the rest of the world. Jordan needs regional and global solutions to its local issues.
This requires a long-term strategy based on realistic policies that consider the need to capitalize on Jordan’s geostrategic advantages, while highlighting what Jordan really needs in order to address its economic problems. These structural economic issues cannot be addressed without large cross-border projects for foreign investors to bring their money to Jordan. One of the key projects must include transportation that connects the region while enabling a rebalancing of Jordan’s demographic distribution by enabling access and creating development possibilities in areas that are currently isolated.
Jordan must undertake a reform approach to foreign and domestic policy. Jordan continues to have a massive geostrategic asset, it just needs to be leveraged differently. Based on recent developments, Jordan should be seeking a complete change in attitude, strategy and political approach. And while an economic-focused peace process provides opportunities for Jordan, it is not the only source of opportunity and broader socio-economic development should be at the top the Jordanian agenda.
Jordan must avoid political isolation. It must start an agenda to re-engage with its neighbors and it must ensure that it is a part of any international initiative that aims to create new opportunities in the region.
Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh