Where Does Jordan Go from Here?

Jordan is in bad shape, and things are only likely to get worse in the future with economic difficulties and political uncertainty. The economy is in bad shape and has structural problems that need to be overcome, and politically the crisis seems only likely to get worse as the regime appears determined to continue stalling and taking symbolic measures.

This Friday, November 30th, the National Front for Reform will hold a demonstration in Amman backed by many of the major opposition groups in Jordan, under the title of a “Popular Uprising for Reform.” The National Front for Reform is headed by former Prime Minister Ahmed Obeidat, and its website (in Arabic) can be found here. The NFR does not call for regime change but rather for regime reform, as do other opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Jordan is facing real fundamental economic problems, including a fiscal deficit expected to reach JD2.5 billion (about $3.5 billion), and a trade deficit that reached JD6.772 billion ($9.569 billion) in the first nine months of this year, up 19.5 percent from last year. Simply put, Jordan exports less than half what it imports. Over the long term neither this nor the fiscal deficit are sustainable. There are also well-documented problems with corruption and unemployment, particularly among the younger generation. Aid is only a short-term answer, although the $487 million pledged by Saudi Arabia and the $250 million that Kuwait has deposited in the Central Bank will help ease the immediate crisis though even in this case Kuwait is only allowing the government access to half of the money immediately. The problem is that the government doesn’t appear to have any sort of long-term plan for reducing its aid dependence.

The regime’s immediate answer to these problems appears to be more repression. The regime has targeted the Muslim Brotherhood following the fuel protests, arresting 45 of its members and charging two of them with attempting to undermine the regime. Among those detained in the last week, both from the Muslim Brotherhood and other political movements, many of them have been denied access to either legal representation or medical care, according to @Freedom_Jordan, who also reported that two more activists were arrested on Wednesday.

The Muslim Brotherhood makes a convenient scapegoat for the government’s problems both domestically and internationally, even though they and all other opposition groups have demanded that the government listen to the demands of its people. President Morsi of Egypt with his recent decree may have played into the Jordanian regime’s hands even though he quickly qualified it. It enables the regime to suggest – falsely – that the choice is between a Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship and the largely powerless elected institutions that currently exist.

It’s unclear where Jordan is going to go from here. What’s clear is that something has changed, and that the economic and political situations are unsustainable, this is evidenced by the fact that the protesters have criticized King Abdullah by name for the first time, and some of them have called for his ouster. The people have begun to recognize that they must take matters into their own hands or the regime will continue to make promises, stall, and ultimately deliver little to nothing. In order for things to change for the better there must be a government that is elected by the people with a clear mandate for change.

Otherwise, an unaccountable government is asking its people to make sacrifices while the corruption and repression continue and there is no plan to overcome the obstacles that the country faces. Just another election next month under an unfair and cosmetically-reformed electoral law that the opposition is planning to boycott. Jordan’s people deserve better.

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