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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Arab Revival’

Does latest Gulf aid to Jordan come with strings?

Mohammad Ersan

June 17, 2018

Ambiguity surrounds the financial mechanisms adopted by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates at a June 11 summit in Mecca to help Jordan navigate through a crippling economic crisis. The kingdom’s debt has risen to record highs this year, totaling 96% of the gross domestic product, or $39 billion, while the unemployment rate rose to 18.5%.

The five-year, $2.5 billion package includes a deposit at the Central Bank of Jordan along with guarantees from the World Bank for Jordan to borrow funds and finance development projects. Jordanian authorities have not, however, made public the amount of the deposit, the terms of the guarantees or the share of the package allocated to development projects.

The offer of aid follows on the heels of protests that began May 30 opposing the government’s economic austerity policies and a draft income tax law. The demonstrators called for changes to the government’s economic approach and a halt to borrowing from international financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The protests ended June 6, after Prime Minister Hani al-Mulki’s government resigned, and Mulki’s designated successor, Omar al-Razzaz, promised to withdraw the income tax legislation.

Given the timing of the Mecca summit, political analysts have been speculating why Saudi Arabia, which chose not to provide aid to Jordan in 2017, has decided to resume financial support to Amman at this particular time.

Bassam Badarin, a political analyst and director of Al-Quds al-Arabi in Amman, told Al-Monitor that the resumption of Gulf aid to Jordan is linked to concerns over possible instability. “Saudi [Arabia has] concerns about Jordan’s peaceful protests spilling over into Gulf countries, as happened with the Tunisian revolution, which later turned into the Arab Spring in 2011,” Badarin said.

In 2012, during the Arab Spring, the Gulf Cooperation Council provided financial support to Jordan that included a $5 billion package over five years to bolster the economy’s performance. Additional funding was not forthcoming after the expiration of that package in 2017, a decision that unidentified Jordanian officials say was punishment for Jordan taking positions inconsistent with those of Saudi Arabia on regional matters. The Saudis did not issue an official statement on why it cut the flow of aid to the kingdom.

Amer al-Sabaileh, a strategic analyst and director of the Middle East Media and Policy Studies Institute, told Al-Monitor, “Saudi Arabia is dealing with Jordan differently than it deals with Egypt, which has received a larger amount of aid. This is because of the estrangement between Jordan and Saudi Arabia driven by several issues, namely the Jerusalem issue and the Hashemites’ guardianship over the city’s holy sites, Jordan’s failure to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and Amman’s position on the blockade against Qatar, as Jordan only downgraded its diplomatic representation in 2017 [by withdrawing its ambassador in Doha].”

Jerusalem is a top priority for Jordan’s ruling Hashemite family, as the kingdom has administered all Muslim and Christian religious sites in Jerusalem’s Old City since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s growing ties with Washington and Riyadh’s muted reaction to the US Embassy being moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have led many in Palestine and Jordan to view Riyadh as placing Palestine, and the issue of Jerusalem in particular, on the back burner.

Sabaileh added, “[The aid] comes against the backdrop of Jordanian popular protests in order to help Jordan through its economic crisis, as [the Gulf] considers the kingdom a friendly country and not an enemy. At the same time, it is obvious that Jordan is no ally of the Saudis, given the minimal efforts made in this regard and the underwhelming amount of the aid.”

During a Jan. 31 meeting with students of the Prince Al Hussein Bin Abdullah II School for International Studies, King Abdullah II had said that the financial situation and economic pressure on Jordan persists because of its political positions, especially on Jerusalem, the idea being that a change in Amman’s stance could lead to offers to help ease the country’s economic problems.

Sabaileh ruled out the possibility of the Gulf aid being linked to Jordan ultimately accepting the so-called deal of the century for Israeli-Palestinian peace supposedly being finalized by Donald Trump’s administration. He reasoned, “Jordan is granting Palestinian refugees Jordanian nationality. Pressuring Jordan to either accept or reject [the deal] will not change a thing [in terms of aid].”

The more than 2 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan constitute the highest percentage, 40%, of those registered in the five areas of operation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, according to the kingdom’s Department of Palestinian Affairs. Jordan has reservations about Trump’s forthcoming peace plan based on fears that it might revoke the Palestinians’ right of return or pressure Amman into accepting a confederation with the West Bank excluding Jerusalem — that is, Jordan becoming an alternative country for Palestinians at the kingdom’s expense. Such a proposal would be met with great anger by indigenous Jordanians.

Labib Kamhawi, a political affairs expert and writer for the London-based Al-Rai Al-Youm, takes a different position on the resumption of Gulf assistance. “Some Arab countries felt bad about their financial blockade of Jordan in terms of causing instability there, and thus in the region as a whole, which could adversely affect future plans contained in the so-called deal of the century, which requires a high degree of stability in both Palestine and Jordan,” he told Al-Monitor. Kamhawi was referring to Jordan’s traditional backers — including Saudi Arabia, the United States and the UAE — reducing aid allowances to the kingdom in recent years, including US threats to cut aid to countries that voted in favor of the resolution condemning the Jerusalem move at the United Nations.

He said, “Stability is a prerequisite for the success of the so-called deal of the century, since so far it is only a set of ideas going back and forth between parties.”

Zaki Bani Irsheid, deputy general controller of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, also ruled out any link between Gulf aid and Jordan’s acceptance of a peace plan. He told Al-Monitor that the aid was, however, linked to the popular protests in the country. “All solutions, disputes, grants, aid and internal and external borrowing are mere temporary efforts to ease the pressure of the present crises without considering what the future might hold for Jordan,” Irsheid noted.

Khalid al-Zubaidi, a Jordanian writer and economist, told Al-Monitor that he does not believe the Gulf aid package will boost the economy, because it is rather “insignificant.” He called the distribution of aid between deposits and guarantees “vague.”

Zubaidi said, “The amount offered is modest compared to Jordan’s $11 billion budget, and the Gulf support was expected to be even greater, so the Mecca summit’s gesture was more one of moral support than financial.”

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/06/jordan-saudi-arabia-aid-deal-of-the-century.html.

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Jordan, Israel, Palestinians in rare Japan-hosted meeting

April 30, 2018

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The Japanese foreign minister has presided over a rare meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials to push ahead with an agro-industrial park intended to enhance cross-border trade and cooperation.

Taro Kono, the Japanese minister, acknowledged late Sunday that it “has not been easy for the four parties to get together under current circumstances.” Israel and Jordan only recently patched up relations after a months-long diplomatic crisis. Officials from Israel and the Palestinian self-rule government in the West Bank meet only intermittently because of ongoing deadlock in peace efforts.

Sunday’s meeting focused on the Japan-backed Jericho Agro-Industrial Park in the West Bank, near an Israeli-controlled border with Jordan. Twelve companies operate at the park, launched more than a decade ago. Kono says he hopes more will join, including Japanese firms.

Former Jordan PM calls to dissolve PA, Abbas’ resignation

April 13, 2018

The former Prime Minister of Jordan, Taher Al-Masri, has called for the Palestinian Authority to be dissolved and for its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign.

Al-Masri explained during a seminar held yesterday at the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies in Al-Bireh, central West Bank, that dissolving the Palestinian Authority or Abbas’ resignation are the most feasible option for the Palestinians.

He warned of the increasing dangers facing Jerusalem by the Israeli Judaisation plans and called to strengthen the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their unity “especially in light of the decline of the Arab position regarding the Palestinian cause”.

He also called to make every effort to end Palestinian division and achieve reconciliation.

The Jordanian official praised the Marches of Return in Gaza and called for their expansion to include other parts of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-former-jordan-pm-calls-to-dissolve-pa-abbas-resignation/.

Prince William tours Roman ruins in Jordan, meets refugees

June 25, 2018

JERASH, Jordan (AP) — Britain’s Prince William on Monday toured Roman ruins in Jordan, chatted with Syrian refugee children and was greeted by ululating women at a community center for traditional arts and crafts.

At the ruins of Jerash, William stopped in front of an enlarged photo that showed his wife, the former Kate Middleton, as a child, along with her father and younger sister posing against the backdrop of the site. For almost three years in the 1980s, the Middletons lived in Jordan, where Michael Middleton worked for British Airways.

“Need to come back with the family for this shot,” William said as he stood in the same spot where the photo was taken. He pointed at his father-in-law in the photo, saying “Michael’s looking very smart in his flip-flops.”

The visit to Jerash came on the second day of a five-day tour that also takes William to Israel and the Palestinian territories. It’s a high-profile foreign trip for William, second in line to the throne, and comes at a time of widening rifts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Later Monday, he’ll be the first British royal to visit the Holy Land in an official capacity. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict looms large, despite the ceremonial nature of the trip. William, an avid soccer fan, arrived in Jordan on Sunday afternoon, as the England-Panama World Cup match was underway. Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein recorded it for him, and the two watched it later Sunday on a huge TV screen at Hussein’s residence. England thrashed Panama 6-1, advancing to the second round.

Before settling down to soccer, William spoke at a garden reception at the British Embassy, praising Britain’s historic ties with Jordan and the kingdom’s commitment to hosting Syrian and Palestinian refugees.

Over decades, Jordan has taken in waves of refugees, most recently those fleeing civil war in Syria. Jordan hosts about 660,000 registered Syrian refugees, but says the actual number of displaced Syrians in the kingdom is twice as high.

Jordanian government officials on Monday were quoted as saying that Jordan could not absorb more refugees. The comments came as Syrian government forces advanced in southern Syria, near Jordan’s border, leading to more displacement.

During the Jerash tour, William met with dozens of children attending a U.N.-sponsored education program, known as Makani, that serves Syrian refugees as well as Jordanian children from overburdened host communities.

The children greeted the William and the Jordanian crown prince in the amphitheater of Jerash, where they showed off some of their art work, including paintings. One girl painted with her foot. The ruins of Jerash are one of Jordan’s main tourist attractions. William has said the Middletons have fond memories of their time in Jordan, and that Kate was sorry she couldn’t join him on the trip to the kingdom. Kate gave birth in April to the couple’s third child, Louis.

Later Monday, William stopped by a community center, Dar Niemeh, set in a garden in northern Jordan where he was greeted by ululating women in traditional embroidered dresses. The center fosters local arts and crafts, including baking and cooking in a mud oven.

He sipped tea while sitting cross-legged on the ground in a Bedouin-style tent.

Jordan and Turkey get cozy

Osama Al Sharif

February 27, 2018

Jordan and Turkey are bolstering ties in a bid to unify positions toward regional challenges where the two countries share mutual interests, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian crisis. King Abdullah II hosted Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Gen. Hulusi Akar, the commander of the Turkish Armed Forces, on separate visits to Amman over the course of two days, Feb. 19 and 20, respectively.

Cavusoglu met with the Jordanian monarch to review bilateral relations and the latest regional developments, according to a Royal Court statement. The king stressed his “keenness to continue coordination on issues of concern to the Islamic nation and enhance security and stability of the region.” Moreover, the two sides discussed economic cooperation and bilateral trade. Cavusoglu announced that his government “would revise the Jordanian-Turkish free trade agreement to facilitate the entry of Jordanian exports to Turkey.” He also said Turkey was looking into using the “Aqaba port as a regional hub for Turkish exports to various markets, including Africa,” the Jordan Times reported. A day later, Abdullah and Akar discussed bilateral military cooperation and the fight against terrorism, according to the Royal Court.

During a meeting with Turkish nationals in Amman on Feb. 18, Cavusoglu said that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan planned to visit Jordan in the near future. Erdogan last visited the kingdom in August 2017, and Abdullah had traveled to Ankara on Dec. 6, the day US President Donald Trump announced his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocate the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Erdogan shares Abdullah’s opposition to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. On Dec. 13 in Istanbul, the king attended a special session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where they rejected Trump’s proclamation.

The promotion of Jordanian-Turkish bilateral ties comes at a time when Amman and Ankara are recalibrating their positions in the wake of recent regional developments and in anticipation of the possible fallout of Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. The two countries are yet to react to the news that the US State Department had sped up moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, now scheduled for May 2018.

Abdullah is a strong supporter of the two-state solution as the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he is committed to his role as custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in East Jerusalem. Both issues could be affected by Trump’s peace plan and Israel’s far right coalition government.

Abdullah’s pivot toward Turkey comes at a time when Jordan is worried that some key Arab states might be ready to embrace Trump’s plan even if it rejects the two-state option. There is a belief in Jordan, supported by anti-Iran statements from the Saudis, that Riyadh considers the issue of Iran as a regional threat to be more important and pressing than the Arab-Israeli conflict. Egypt’s position is unclear but will be crucial in determining the fate of the US peace plan.

It is no secret that relations between Amman and Riyadh have further cooled since Trump’s decision on Jerusalem. According to local analysts, the Saudis resisted calls by Amman to hold an emergency Arab summit on Jerusalem after the US announcement. In addition, Saudi Arabia was not satisfied with Jordan’s reaction to its moves beginning last June to pressure and isolate Qatar.

Amman did not cut ties with Doha, choosing instead to only downgrade diplomatic relations and close Al Jazeera offices. Other reasons for the cooling in bilateral relations concerns Amman’s position on the war in Yemen — Jordan’s participation in the Saudi-led coalition was symbolic and short-lived — and courting of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has representation in the Jordanian parliament.

Jordan is keen to avoid being seen as joining regional blocs or coalitions. Despite Amman’s historically close relations with the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, Abdullah has always followed an independent policy that shuns polarization. This is demonstrated in Amman maintaining low-key diplomatic relations with Tehran, despite its rejection of Iran’s controversial role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Abdullah was the first Arab leader to warn of a Shiite crescent, going back to 2004.

Given Abdullah’s approach to foreign policy, Jordan’s growing closeness to Turkey, which has sided with Qatar in the Gulf dispute, will be carefully managed. The two sides have shared interests in the outcome of the Syrian crisis, and they both back Palestinian rights and the two-state solution. Turkey’s strong support for the Hashemite’s role in East Jerusalem is of important moral value.

Yet according to Jordanian political analyst Amer al-Sabaileh, both Jordan and Turkey are affected by “the damaging US regional policies.” In this regard, he told Al-Monitor, “[For] Jordan, it is the peace process and Trump’s derailing of the two-state solution, and for Turkey, it is the US backing of Syria’s Kurds and the uncertainty over the latest Turkish incursion into northern Syria.”

In addition to deeper political coordination, Jordan, which has suffered economically as a result of the crises in Syria and Iraq in the past few years, stands to benefit from better commercial ties with Turkey. Former Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister Jawad Anani told Al-Monitor that the Turkish economy is around the 15th largest, and Turkey’s political and economic standing in the region is beyond dispute.

“The boosting of ties comes at a crucial time for Jordan, since Turkey represents a huge market for Jordanian goods, as well as a source of incoming tourists,” Anani said. “After Cavusoglu’s visit, Turkey exempted over 500 Jordanian goods from customs duties, which is a major opportunity for local industries.” He added that Turkish products and TV dramas are popular in Jordan, and Turkey is the No. 1 tourist destination for Jordanians.

Erdogan, however, remains a contentious figure among Jordanians. Many admire him for standing up to Israel and the United States, and for dialing back Turkey’s secular culture, but others view him as a demagogue and a political opportunist. Ironically, Abdullah’s view of Erdogan has not always been positive. In April 2003, The Atlantic reported the king as perceiving the then-Turkish prime minister as “merely promoting a softer-edged version of Islamism” and saying that Erdogan had told him that democracy is like “a bus ride” — “Once I get to my stop, I’m getting off.” Since that time, the two leaders appear to have realized that they are better off working together to offset common challenges in their troubled region.

Source: al-Monitor.

Link: https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/02/jordan-turkey-boost-relations-face-regional-challanges.html.

UNICEF: 85% of Syrian children in Jordan live in poverty

February 26, 2018

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that 85 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan live below the poverty line.

In a statement released yesterday, the UN body said Syrian families are struggling to meet their basic needs, including feeding, educating and protecting their children.

According to the study, 94 per cent of Syrian children are under five years old and suffer from “multidimensional poverty”, meaning that they are deprived of a minimum of two out of the following five basic needs: education, health, water and sanitation, child protection and child safety.

Four out of ten Syrian families in host communities in Jordan are food insecure while 26 per cent are vulnerable to food insecurity.

“Forty-five per cent of children aged 0-5 years old do not have adequate health services, including vaccination,” it said.

UNICEF’s study revealed that 38 per cent of Syrian children are not enrolled in formal education or have dropped out of school because of distance, cost, lack of space or being bullied.

Moreover, 16 per cent of children aged 0-5 years old do not have birth certificates, which will present them with additional challenges and risks in the future.

It is estimated that Jordan hosts 1.3 million Syrians, only half of whom are registered refugees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180226-unicef-85-of-syrian-children-in-jordan-live-in-poverty/.

Aid groups: 8,500 Syrians still held in Jordanian no-go camp

January 30, 2018

AZRAQ REFUGEE CAMP, Jordan (AP) — International aid groups say about 8,500 Syrians are still locked up behind barbed wire in a no-go section of Jordan’s second-largest refugee camp, despite initial assurances in 2016 the arrangement is temporary.

The Jordan INGO Forum, an alliance of 60 groups, asked Jordan to expedite security screenings of those held in Azraq camp’s “Village 5,” saying that at the current pace this would take until October 2020.

The alliance asked Jordan in a recent report to lift movement restrictions on Syrians in camps. Coordinator Yannick Martin said on Tuesday that Jordan has done much to host Syrian refugees, but that “a frank dialogue needs to take place” on movement restrictions.

Jordan says its security is paramount, that it shoulders a heavy refugee burden and that its security vetting is exemplary.

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