The Punishment of Jordan

The Gulf aid cut-off that caused the current crisis was aimed at bringing the country to its knees  

By Abdel Bari Atwan

King Abdallah of Jordan’s sacking of the government of prime minister Hani al-Mulqi after its economic policies provoked mass public outrage was a civilised and significant move. It followed days of protests against the government’s new income tax law and its price hikes on essential goods, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets and public squares, and reflects a concern to listen to public opinion and engage with its legitimate demands in order to safeguard the country’s security and stability.

Jordan is being targeted by a number of parties, both Arab and foreign, because it has attempted to pursue a responsible approach to many of the Middle East’s burning issues – above all its opposition to the judaization of occupied Jerusalem and its transformation into Israel’s eternal capital, and to the so-called ‘deal of the century’ aimed at liquidating the Palestinian cause and burying the right to return and the Palestinians’ other basic rights.

There can be no question that Jordan’s financial troubles are partly due to corruption and to gross wrongdoing by most previous governments. But the current crisis has largely been caused by the cut-off financial aid by the Gulf states, which was deliberately aimed at bringing the country to its knees so it would submit to this pernicious deal and by extension to the ‘alternative homeland’ scenario. It is imperative to be aware of these schemes, and for Jordan’s people and leadership to stand united against them.

Jordan is being punished because it refused to be dragged into the Yemen war and send troops to take part in the so-called ‘Operation Decisive Storm’.  It tried to keep its distance from all such schemes that ultimately serve to fragment the Arab world and drain its resources and the blood of its people. So while hundreds of billions of Gulf dollars were channelled into to other undeserving coffers, Jordan was deliberately deprived, on American orders, even of some crumbs.

Having heeded the demands of its citizens and sacked a government that placed unbearable burdens on them with its draconian fiscal policy, the Jordanian leadership is certainly well aware of where the damage comes from.

But it would be well advised to draw some logical conclusions. Chief among these is the imperative of turning northwards and eastwards, while at the same time strengthening economic self-reliance, now that it has been betrayed – and indeed, conspired against — by the fellow Arab governments it has been banking on for years. That means, specifically, reaching out to Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran.

The UAE does $8.7 billion of trade with Iran annually, the balance massively in Iran’s favour. Turkey is aiming to triple the volume of its commerce with Iran to an annual $30 billion. So who could complain if Jordan were to try to open up to Iran and Turkey?

Another key point to make is that Jordan’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has had hugely negative consequences for the country, above all the influx of 1.5 million refugees into its territory and the closure of its northern border, which, when open, used to earn an estimated $400 million per year in tariffs and other dues. It would make sense for the Jordanian authorities do their utmost to get the border reopened both in order to resume two-way trade and enable the return of tens of thousands of refugees – especially now that Syria is approaching the reconstruction phase, in which Jordanian companies should be seeking to play a full role.

Other questions can be asked, purely from the perspective of Jordan’s self-interest. Why, for example, are Iranians not allowed to visit the Shia holy sites in Karak? Hundreds of thousands visit Mecca annually for hajj or umra, spending an estimated half a billion dollars, so why shouldn’t Jordan also benefit from their religious tourism? And what would be wrong with Jordan opening up economically to Turkey and reviving the free trade agreement between the two countries?

Jordan has always been a model of stability in the region, never closed its borders to refugees seeking safety and a decent life – whether from Iraq, Palestine, Syria or Yemen — and stands for communal and sectarian coexistence without discrimination. It deserves support to help it out of this crisis and, God forbid, any future ones.