Jordan's economic crisis worsens, protests subside

The influx of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees has led to a severe economic crisis in Jordan, while popular protests have subsided in light of the failures of other Arab Spring countries.

al-monitor A Syrian refugee man buys fruits and vegetables from a shop at the main market at Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria Sep. 8, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed.

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protests, king abdullah, jordan, islamists, economic crisis, arab spring

Jan 12, 2014

The year 2013 saw the end of the "Arab Spring" in Jordan, as the country remained hostage to the severe economic crisis. The primary cause of the latter was the flow of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Jordan's villages and cities. 

In January 2013, the Hashemite Kingdom held its first parliamentary elections since the beginning of popular uprisings in neighboring countries. These elections were boycotted by the most prominent opposition group, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The elections resulted in conventional forces gaining control of the majority of the parliament's 150 seats, especially tribal forces and businessmen loyal to the powerful ruling establishment. Meanwhile, leftist and nationalist forces experienced a miserable failure when it came to sending their candidates to the legislature.  

The winning blocs decided to name Abdullah Ensour as prime minister, yet they quickly reversed their decision by putting sticks in the spokes of the government in the hopes of toppling it. 

Jordanian King Abdullah II reappointed Ensour to form a new government following consultations with members of the new parliament. These consultations with the king came in the wake of constitutional amendments that transferred some of his powers to members of parliament, in response to calls for reform emanating from the uprisings that swept the Arab world. It is worth noting that in the past the Jordanian king selected the prime minister without consulting parliament. 

The Islamic opposition boycotted the municipal elections held in August of the same year. These elections were characterized by weak participation, with no more than 15% of voters in the capital of Amman participating. The authorities justified this low turnout by saying there was no political interest in the elections, since [parliament] is of a service-based nature. 

The year 2013 also saw a decline in the attractiveness of protests [to Jordanians] following the aftermath of the Arab Spring that began in early 2011. The weekly protests that had been held in the capital and major cities came to an end. It is certain that the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi contributed greatly to limiting the Jordanian movement calling for reform and fighting corruption. 

Although the opposition — including the Islamists — had confirmed that they would [continue] to demand a reduction in the powers of the Jordanian monarch, these entities found themselves forced to move from street protests to calls for a national dialogue. This dialogue would be directly sponsored by the Royal Palace, and the latter would oversee the results. 

The Jordanian economy, which is suffering a crisis, was burdened by a flood of refugees fleeing the protracted civil war in its northern neighbor, Syria. Jordan is currently hosting more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, increasing pressures on water and electricity resources. The Syrian war also strangled cross-border trade, threatening to ignite more unrest in the already troubled Middle East region. 

A report issued by the United Nations confirmed that the Syrian crisis had cost Jordan about $5 billion as of the end of 2013, while the Jordanian government said that it had collected less than $800 million from international bodies to support the refugees. The Jordanian monarch warned in early November 2013 that the country would take the necessary measures in the event that the international community continues to cut its assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan. 

It is worth noting that Jordan's debts have risen by 15%, from about $23.7 billion at the end of 2012 to $27.2 billion in 2013. 

Moreover, the developments in the Syrian crisis and the tragic scenes of Syrian refugees led to a decline in the attractiveness of popular protests in Jordan. 

The Syrian crisis remains one of the most important issues that threaten the security of the country, especially given escalating official concerns about the rising influence of Islamic organizations loyal to al-Qaeda on the Jordanian border and the ongoing infiltration of Salafist fighters through its territory. Furthermore, the authorities have announced multiple foiled attempts to smuggle weapons across the Jordanian-Syrian border, and both Syrian and Jordanian nationals have been referred to State Security Court on numerous security related charges. 

The Jordanian government has issued several decisions in 2013, including a decision in November to raise fuel prices. This sparked unrest that continued for days, especially in rural and tribal areas that were affected by the removal of subsidies. 

Ensour said that shifting from an extensive subsidy system to a monetary subsidy system was aimed at supporting the poor, and will provide more active support. According to the prime minister, this is the only option to address the financial crisis that has led to a rise in the country's budget deficit. 

Although Ensour has backed down on a decision to raise the price of bread — which was scheduled to go into effect in early 2014 – waves of rising prices of goods and services continued during 2013. The government has implemented a plan to gradually raise electricity prices, beginning in the commercial sector and ending with the home sector in early 2014. These price increases serve as a substitute for raising taxes on telecommunications and [other services], and have contributed to rising inflation rates in the country. 

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