Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the Middle East

Jordan: Background and U.S. Relations *

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW

Despite the growing instability in neighboring states Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, Jordan has not experienced mass unrest and its government remains arguably the most reliable partner for the United States in the Arab world. Though youth-led protests have become a constant in downtown Amman and, more surprisingly, in tribal areas that have historically provided the kingdom's base of support, opposition to the monarchy has been restrained overall, perhaps owing to fear of the type of instability on display in other Arab countries.

Though King Abdullah II has maintained his image in the international community as a modernizer and tends to be more open to reform than most Jordanian politicians, his rhetoric is often not matched by concrete actions. Very few substantive political reforms, serious anticorruption measures, or economic restructuring steps have taken place under his watch.

Overall, popular economic grievances have spurred the most vociferous protests in Jordan. Jordan's lack of domestic energy and water resources places a constant strain on the government budget, with fuel imports and subsidies driving deficit spending and borrowing in recent years. When the government announced a reduction in fuel subsidies in November 2012 in line with commitments made to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), widespread street unrest ensued. The Jordanian government is trying to balance the need to stave off unrest by keeping the cost of living lower for many poorer Jordanians with financing the growing budget deficit that comes as a result of social spending. Since it cannot do this alone, the government has turned to the IMF ($2.38 billion loan), the United States ($660 million a year in bilateral aid), Europe, and the Gulf States ($5 billion multi-year aid package) to keep it afloat until the overall political and economic situation improves.

The IMF's outlook for Jordan is somewhat positive, noting that "Looking into 2013, the outlook is good. Real GDP growth is expected to accelerate to above three percent reflecting an increase in government capital spending, higher domestic consumption, and a recovery in exports."1

Despite the prospect of somewhat easier economic times ahead, many observers argue that the kingdom clearly needs to take steps sooner rather than later to address the needs of its youth, who seek more gainful employment, justice, and broader political participation.

Providing better economic opportunities for younger Jordanians is a major challenge outside of Amman. Large-scale agriculture is not sustainable, so officials are left to provide young workers with low-wage, unproductive civil service jobs. Attempts to boost the information technology sector have been modestly successful in the capital, but commentators maintain that if Jordan is to address the demands of tribal youth protestors, economic growth must be more widely distributed.

Breaking Taboos: Public Criticism of the Royal Family

Since the so-called Arab Spring began over two years ago, emboldened protestors have more openly criticized the Hashemite royal family directly. Though most protestors do not call for regime change, observers have chronicled a certain loss of trust in the monarchy among some segments of the population.

Public criticism of King Abdullah II, Queen Rania, and even the institution of the monarchy has been persistent and has come from members of the kingdom's foundational support base-the tribal/military elite with roots around the East Bank of the Jordan River. Some tribal elites have directly accused Queen Rania-who is of Palestinian origin-of enriching her family and interfering in politics by promoting Palestinian allies. Tribal youth protestors have chanted denunciations of the royal family, referring to the king and his coterie as "Ali Baba the Second and his 40 thieves." Walid al Kurdi, the husband of King Abdullah II's aunt, Princess Basma, has fled Jordan to London after prosecutors launched a corruption case against him, alleging that he illegally profited millions of dollars from the privatization of the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company (JPMC), King Abdullah II acknowledged Jordanians' frustration, probably at least partly in order to deflect public antipathy. …

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