Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Jordan's Future Challenges

Academic journal article Middle East Review of International Affairs (Online)

Jordan's Future Challenges

Article excerpt

Since his accession to the throne in 1999, King Abdallah has successfully steered Jordan's ship through the turbulent waters of a tempestuous regional context and a complex economic and social situation within the country. The expansion of the economic reforms process agreed upon with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has enabled Jordan to modernize its economic structure, post significant growth rates, and weather the storm of the international economic crisis. Nevertheless, the improvement of the macroeconomic situation has not prevented a series of protests denouncing rising commodity prices and rampant unemployment.

The road to greater political openness has been conditioned by a wide range of external factors. The second intifada, the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, and Hamas' rise to power in Gaza have all influenced decisionmaking and provided arguments to those within the regime who feel that further democratization could jeopardize the country's stability. However, Jordan has not been immune to the wave of unrest sweeping the region following the revolts that toppled President Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Mubarak in Egypt; the regime will likely need to start considering real reforms in order to curtail future opposition. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a sword of Damocles for the regime in Jordan, where almost half of the population is of Palestinian origin and not all are well integrated. Any development in the conflict has immediate repercussions in Jordan. The Hamas coup in Gaza and the presence of militants close to Hamas within the Jordanian Islamist movement's leadership has led the regime to change its attitude toward the Islamists, whom it accuses of radicalizing their anti-state discourse. Moreover, since 2002, Jordan has been targeted by al-Qaida in several terrorist attacks. Although the threat is still latent, effective action by the Jordanian security forces, the death of the al-Qa'ida leader in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and the steps taken to combat Salafi rhetoric have curtailed the capacity of Salafi networks to strike on Jordanian soil.

A MODERNIZED ECONOMY

The early years of King Abdallah's rule have been characterized by the development of policies focused on economic reform and Jordan's integration in the global market. The major economic crisis in 1989 forced Jordan to sign an agreement for a structural adjustment program with the IMF in order to cut its debt and public deficit, control inflation, and set in motion a package of reforms aimed at modernizing the country's economic structure. The removal of subsidies, the privatization process, and the trimming of the public sector have also affected the social support bases on which the regime relies, giving rise to new forces of power and influence.

Jordan's economic problems were compounded as a result of the First Gulf War in 1991. King Hussein's support for Iraq led to a rift with the Gulf nations, which until then had been Jordan's biggest financial backers, and also to the return of 300,000 Jordanian workers (mostly Palestinians), a situation that triggered increased unemployment and higher inflation. Until the outbreak of the Second Gulf War in 2003, Iraq had financed virtually all of Jordan's energy needs. The Jordanian economy was thus dealt a serious blow by the conflict in Iraq, which also affected vital sectors including transport and tourism as well as worker remittances. However, the mass return of workers also led to a significant increase (estimated at 1 billion USD) in investment in small and medium-sized businesses, which injected new life into Amman's economy.1

At the time of King Abdallah's accession to the throne in 1999, the economy was still in deep crisis, and Jordan had to contend with a particularly difficult regional context. Between 2000 and 2003, the country was affected by the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, the U.S. war on terrorism, and the military intervention in Iraq. …

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