Jordan risks instability



Hassan Barari

Published — Friday 16 November 2012

Last update 16 November 2012 4:26 am

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TO avert economic collapse, the government of Jordan lifted fuel subsidies. But as soon as the government made this decision three days ago, people in almost every city in Jordan took to the street protesting the new policy. Interestingly, after averting chaos in the country for a long time following the advent of the Arab Spring, the king faces a dire situation particularly after two people were killed during the spread of riots in Jordan’s cities.
It is as if the government has run out of options. The prime minister has been working around the clock to persuade Jordanians that lifting subsidies on fuel and other commodities is not only urgent but it will not affect almost two-thirds of Jordanians. His extensive public relations campaign to win the minds and hearts of Jordanians comes as increasing number of people will find it hard to adjust their lifestyles to the new realities.
The running argument of many experts — and perhaps of a majority of Jordanians — is that the economic situation is bad because of the wrong policies adopted by successive governments. Those who believe this say that the wider public was never consulted about these catastrophic policies. Moreover, elections were rigged and dealing with corruption has been approached selectively.
The wider public has no trust in the state’s institutions. Not surprisingly, the current government has become a key part of the problem as well. Its transitional nature raises a controversy. When the prime minister argued that he had no constitutional power to revise the package of legislation — which failed to satisfy a majority of Jordanians — and that the next Parliament should deal with this legislation, he was trying to impress on people the transitional nature of his government. A transitional government cannot effect genuine reform in the absence of Parliament.
The irony is that this government transcends its transitional nature and seeks to make decisions that will only further impoverish people. For many, this is difficult to accept and I believe that the prime minister will have a hard time convincing people of the sanity of his options. Some economists argue that the government insists on addressing the economic crisis by implementing the same tools that have created the problem in the first place.
Therefore, the dominant impression is that the government is only paying lip service to people and that it has failed to be creative while looking for solutions. Governments would repeatedly turn to the people to have them pay for the wrong policies. Jordanians have every reason to be dissatisfied with the official insistence on policies that created the economic crisis.
While it remains to be seen how the outbreak of riots all over the country will play out, the government should think about an economic approach that can ensure sustainable development. Additionally, the government should rethink its expense priorities. If the prime minister thinks it is fine to sugarcoat his statements to sway the public for the short run, he needs to see that in months to come the situation may change beyond recognition.
Instead of focusing on public relation campaigns and discussion with various sectors, the country needs to rethink its foreign policy in a way that can help it obtain some financial aid from abroad. Let us face the hard reality: Some countries refuse to help Jordan financially because of Amman’s foreign policy. It is just about time to revise domestic priorities of Jordan, as well as the foreign policy.
Unfolding events over the last few days indicate that price hikes triggered by cuts in subsidies will not resonate well with the vast majority of Jordanians. Apparently, the government does not understand that the economic grievances were the catalyst of the Arab Spring. Jordan has a similar economic problem last year but a last-minute aid from the Gulf country and Saudi Arabia helped Jordan keep afloat. Chances are high that Jordan will not receive the same package of aid of last year. Therefore, domestic tensions will reach a new height if the government does not revise its decision that affects the living standards of all Jordanians.

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