More repression, fewer jobs: Jordanians face bleak outlook

More repression, fewer jobs: Jordanians face bleak outlook
In this Nov. 10, 2020 file photo, Jordanians begin voting in a parliamentary election overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, in Amman, Jordan. (AP/FIle)
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Updated 26 November 2021

More repression, fewer jobs: Jordanians face bleak outlook

More repression, fewer jobs: Jordanians face bleak outlook
  • A years-long economic downturn was accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN, Jordan: As a poorly paid public school teacher, Khaled Jaber always needed a side hustle, working as a private tutor and using his car as a taxi to help pay the bills. For unexpected needs, such as medical expenses, he has had to borrow money from relatives.
Somehow, the 44-year-old muddled through life, sustained by his love of teaching high school Arabic and the respect his job earned him in the community.
But his fragile equilibrium has been upended by the government’s harsh treatment of tens of thousands of teachers over the past two years. Their union, leveraging mass protests and a one-month strike, obtained a 35 percent salary increase, only to then be dissolved by the government. Thirteen union leaders were dragged to court and each faces a one-year prison term pending appeal.
The increased authoritarianism — noted in the downgrade of Jordan from “partly free” to “not free” this year by the US advocacy group Freedom House — stands in contrast to monarchy’s image of having embraced liberal Western values and being a reliable ally in a turbulent region.
In Jaber’s case, the heavy-handed silencing of protests leaves him feeling disrespected, while the salary increase has barely made a dent because of exploding prices.
Even the right to complain has been taken away, he said.
“Allow the space for me to speak, to go out to the street and scream, as long as the stance is peaceful,” he said, speaking in his small apartment on the edge of Amman, as if appealing to the authorities. “Allow the space for me to express my distress.”
The crackdown on expression has contributed to a growing malaise in the kingdom.
A years-long economic downturn, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, means more than half of young Jordanians are now unemployed and the country is sinking deeper into debt.
Recent revelations that King Abdullah II secretly amassed more than $106 million in luxury properties abroad have further undermined public trust. News of the offshore acquisitions came just months after the king’s half-brother, Prince Hamzah, alleged corruption at the very top, engulfing the typically discreet royal family in a rare scandal.
Anger at this trifecta of increased repression, a worsening economy and perceived corruption is bubbling just under the surface, several activists said. Only fear of being jailed or inadvertently igniting self-destructive chaos, akin to events in Syria, is keeping a lid on mass protests, they said.
“There is no doubt that this generates pressure,” Maisara Malas, 59, an engineer and union activist, said of the widening gap between a detached, high-living elite and the vast majority of Jordanians. “The people are getting poorer, and the ruling regime is getting richer.”
Any hint of instability should worry Jordan’s Western allies, foremost the United States, who value the kingdom for its help in the fight against Islamic extremists, its security ties with Israel and its willingness to host refugees.
But the focus of the Biden administration has shifted to the Indo-Pacific, with Middle East policy in maintenance mode and the approach to Jordan seemingly on autopilot, said Seth Binder of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based advocacy group.
In comparison to troubled Syria or Yemen, US officials apply to Jordan “this tired trope of an Arab regime that is a moderate regime,” he said. “That misses what is really happening and raises some real concerns.”
Jordan is the second-largest recipient of bilateral US aid in the region, after Israel. In a 2018 memorandum, the US assured Jordan that it would receive at least $1.3 billion a year for five years. Congress, where Jordan enjoys bipartisan support, has gone beyond that. In 2021, it appropriated $1.7 billion, including $845 million in direct budget support. For the upcoming fiscal year, the Biden administration proposes $1.3 billion, including $490 million in budget support, or money not earmarked for specific programs.
In a report circulated among Washington decision-makers in September, Binder’s group called for more stringent conditions to be attached to direct cash transfers, and to eventually phase them out. Aid should be leveraged in a push for economic and political reforms, it said.
“A cash transfer to the government is a privilege that should be reserved for US partners committed to democracy and human rights and not known for rampant corruption,” the report said.
The State Department said in a response that aid to Jordan is in the direct national security interest of the US, describing the kingdom as an “invaluable ally.” It said the US carefully monitors its aid programs to Jordan and that the US routinely engages the Jordanian government on a wide range of issues, including human rights.
Jordanian officials pushed back against corruption allegations. “Every (aid) dollar that is provided is accounted for,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told The Associated Press last week. Direct cash transfers are “accounted for in the budget the government executes, and it’s subject to audit.”
Safadi also defended the king’s purchase of luxury homes, revealed earlier this month in a massive leak of documents dubbed the Pandora Papers. Safadi said the monarch used private funds and cited security and privacy needs as a reason for keeping the transactions secret.
Former Information Minister Mohammed Momani said he regretted Jordan’s downgrade to “not free,” but argued that the kingdom still did better than most countries in the region.
“We know that Jordan is not Sweden, but we also know that we are among the very few best countries when it comes to freedom of expression in the Middle East,” he said. “So the situation is not as we hoped we would have, but it is not as dark as some people would paint it.”
All power in Jordan rests with the king, who appoints and dismisses governments. Parliament is compliant because of a single-vote electoral system that discourages the formation of strong political parties. Abdullah has repeatedly promised to open the political system, but then pulled back amid concerns of losing control to an Islamist surge.
After the Prince Hamzah scandal in the spring, the king appointed a committee of experts who now propose reserving one-third of seats in the 2024 parliament election for political parties. The quota would rise to two-thirds in a decade and eventually reach 100 percent, said Momani, a member of the committee.
Momani said this is the most significant reform attempt in three decades, though the latest ideas generated little excitement in Jordan, where many view promises of change with skepticism.
Jaber, the Arabic teacher, is among those with a bleak outlook. He said he expects his four children to be worse off than he is, citing high unemployment and rising prices.
“When a student goes to university, he and his family will owe thousands (of dinars). How long does he need to get a job? When will he be able to get married? When will he build a house?” he said. “I don’t see that there is a positive or rosy future, as some officials say. Things are getting worse and more desperate for me and for others.”

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979
Updated 7 min 16 sec ago

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

DNA matches body to Alaska man last seen alive in 1979

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: The remains of a man found on Fire Island just west of Anchorage in 1989 have been identified through DNA and genome sequencing, Alaska State Troopers said Wednesday.

Troopers said the victim was Michael Allison Beavers, who owned an excavation business in Chugiak. He was reported missing in 1980.
The decadeslong investigation started when human remains were discovered July 24, 1989. An autopsy concluded it was a Caucasian male between the ages of 35 and 50, and evidence found on the remains indicated the death was criminal, troopers said. Officials said it appeared the remains had been on the beach for at least a year, but the date of death couldn’t be determined.
A DNA profile entered into the national missing persons database in 2003 came back with no match.
Earlier this year, the Alaska Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Investigation Unit reopened the case. Bone samples retained in the case were sent to a private lab, where DNA was extracted and genome sequencing was used to create a comprehensive DNA profile.
That was uploaded to a genealogy database and linked to other people, including some with ties to Alaska. Later, a DNA sample taken from a close relative confirmed Beavers’ identity.
Beavers’ spouse reported him missing two months after he was last seen alive, in November 1979.
Beavers, 40, left his home in Chugiak to travel to Seattle by car to contact a business associate. He never arrived, troopers said.
The investigation into his disappearance stalled and closed in 1982. Ten years later, he was declared dead.
Troopers say the investigation into his death continues, and anyone with information about his disappearance and death should contact authorities.
In October, troopers were able to use the same method to identify Robin Peleky, one of the unidentified victims of Alaska serial killer Robert Hansen who was killed in the early 1980s.
Hansen abducted woman, many of them sex workers, off the streets of Anchorage, and hunted them in the wilderness north of Anchorage. In total, 12 bodies have been found, and 11 of those have been identified, troopers spokesperson Austin McDaniel told The Associated Press in October.
The only person not yet identified is known only as Eklutna Annie, who is believed to have been Hansen’s first victim, McDaniel said. Her body was found near Eklutna Lake north of Anchorage.
Genetic genealogy efforts are underway in hopes of identifying her, Randy McPherron, an Alaska State Troopers cold case investigator, said in October.

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs
Updated 02 December 2021

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs

WHO warns of ‘toxic mix’ as EU chief mulls mandatory Covid jabs
  • The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible.

GENEVA: The WHO issued stern warnings Wednesday on the dangers of vaccination apathy and the European Union put mandatory jabs on the table, as the United States registered its first case of the fast-spreading omicron strain of the coronavirus.
The new variant, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa a week ago, has quickly popped up across continents, darkening economic forecasts and deepening fears of another difficult winter in the northern hemisphere.
“Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage, and very low testing — a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reminding the world that the delta variant “accounts for almost all cases.”
“We need to use the tools we already have to prevent transmission and save lives from delta. And if we do that, we will also prevent transmission and save lives from omicron,” he said.
The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not omicron is more transmissible, and whether it results in more severe disease — as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against the variant.
Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the now nearly two-year global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.
In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc — although only individual member states can impose vaccine mandates.
Austria has already said it will make Covid jabs compulsory next February, Germany is considering a similar approach, and Greece said Tuesday it would mandate vaccines for over-60s.
The United States, officially the world’s hardest-hit country, announced it had detected its first omicron case, a fully vaccinated traveler from South Africa who is recovering from mild symptoms.
Top American infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci stressed that fully vaccinated adults should seek a booster when eligible to give themselves the best possible protection.
“Our experience with variants such as the delta variant is that even though the vaccine isn’t specifically targeted to the delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also recorded their first cases of omicron, making the Gulf the latest region to be affected.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control meanwhile recommended that children aged five to 11 who are at risk of severe Covid should be considered a “priority group” for vaccination.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.
The Paris-based OECD said the recovery had “lost momentum and is becoming increasingly imbalanced” and would remain “precarious” until vaccines were deployed worldwide.
omicron has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, mostly targeting southern Africa. Japan has suspended new flight bookings into the country.
On Wednesday, UN Secretary Guterres Antonio Guterres added his voice to the growing chorus of criticism against such bans, calling them deeply unfair and punitive” as well as “ineffective.”
Rising infection rates have already seen some European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalizations, but leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.
Portugal, which has Europe’s highest vaccination rate, reintroduced mask mandates in indoor settings, and aims to administer a third Covid jab to almost one-fifth of its population by the end of the year.
From Wednesday, every adult in Italy became eligible for a Covid booster shot, previously only open to those aged over 40.
Despite new restrictions recently introduced in Denmark, the country on Wednesday registered a record number of new Covid cases with 5,120 infections in the last 24 hours.
Even as governments acted unilaterally in imposing travel restrictions, WHO member states came together in Geneva to work on an international accord on handling the next pandemic.
An intergovernmental negotiating body will be established to reach an agreement on responding to future pandemics with a first meeting due before March 1, 2022.
While the European summer of fleeting Covid freedoms may be over, in the southern hemisphere, Pacific nation Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation on Wednesday and reopened to tourists.
Traditional dancers in grass skirts welcomed waving holidaymakers from Sydney, the first of an expected flood of desperately needed tourists in the coming weeks.

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League
Updated 02 December 2021

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League

Chelsea beats Watford 2-1 to stay top of Premier League
  • Chelsea remained a point ahead of Manchester City and two clear of Liverpool on a night when all three teams won

WATFORD: Chelsea stayed top of the Premier League with a hard-fought 2-1 win at Watford on Wednesday in a match that was halted for 32 minutes in the first half after a spectator suffered cardiac arrest.
Substitute Hakim Ziyech grabbed the winner for the leaders in the 72nd minute, converting a cross from Mason Mount — the England midfielder who had put Chelsea in front in the 29th.
By then, the teams had been taken off by the referee because of the medical emergency in the stands that happened after about 13 minutes. The incident happened on the side of the field where Chelsea left back Marcos Alonso was stationed and he appeared to alert the referee and the medical staff on the touchline.
The spectator was stabilized and taken away on a stretcher to applause from the crowd.
Emmanuel Dennis equalized for Watford in the 43rd after Ruben Loftus-Cheek — one of a number of fringe players handed a start by Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel because of injuries — was dispossessed in the center circle by Moussa Sissoko, who drove forward and set up his teammate to score.
Chelsea remained a point ahead of Manchester City and two clear of Liverpool on a night when all three teams won.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel said his weakened team was “lucky” to come away with all three points
“That’s not us. We were absolutely not ready today for this match," said Tuchel, who was without Reece James, N'Golo Kante, Ben Chilwell, Mateo Kovacic because of injury while Timo Werner and Jorginho started on the bench because they needed a rest.
“I missed maybe to find the right approach to make my team ready. We had the break due to very sad circumstances – hopefully the person is better — but even this break after the first (13) minutes did not change our approach. We did not cope with the pressure, with the first ball, second ball.”
Tuchel said all his team did was “hang in there.”
“I see this totally as an exception from the rule," he said. “I will not insist too long on this match because it’s so unusual for us to play like this.”
Tuchel said he was concerned about an injury sustained by defender Trevoh Chalobah in the second half.
“The doctor was on the pitch 20 times today it felt like,” he said. “It’s a big loss, Trev. I’m a bit worried.”

Russia gas no quick fix for European spot market: Analysts

Russia gas no quick fix for European spot market: Analysts
Updated 02 December 2021

Russia gas no quick fix for European spot market: Analysts

Russia gas no quick fix for European spot market: Analysts

MOSCOW: The longer the prices for natural gas remain at record high levels in Europe this year, the stronger the markets feel that Russian gas should not be seen as a quick fix to the problem, at least not before this winter ends.
“Overall gas production in Russia over the three quarters of 2021 was 12 percent and 2.6 percent higher than a year ago and in 2019. But it was not adequate to raise the supply to the EU immediately,” analysts at Bloomberg NEF said in a note dated Oct. 12.
The fundamentals have changed now. Ronald Smith, executive director and senior oil and gas analyst at Moscow-based BCS Global Markets, explained to Arab News in an emailed message: “In 2021, domestic demand in Russia has gone up substantially on a year-on-year basis. This is at least partially due to the weather, as 2020 was perhaps the warmest year on record, and 2021 has been pretty close to the 10-year norm.”
“There was a strong request to refill domestic storage in Russia before the heating season starts on Nov.1,” Smith added.
Given the pandemic circumstances, Putin’s administration didn’t want to take any chances. As a result, Russia turned up among “bottom 5" gas exporters whose shipments abroad in the third quarter of 2021 fell the most in absolute terms from the same quarter of 2019, according to a presentation by US-based Cheniere Energy, Inc. at an EIA event on Nov. 16.
Gazprom is also facing capacity constraints. “The company is currently producing 1.5 billion cubic meters per day. That is effectively 100 percent of the capacity. They might be able to manage 1.55 bcm/d, but not for very long, and that needs to be reserved for when the weather actually gets cold, say, -20C in Moscow and -5C in Frankfurt,” Smith told Arab News.
Responding to Arab News question how big the size of the increase in Gazprom shipments to Europe could have been over the next 3 months, had Nord Stream 2 regulatory issues been resolved, the analyst said: “Not much at this point unless Gazprom is willing to take gas out of Russian storage, which is full at this time.”
There seems to be a consensus view among industry experts that high gas prices in Europe this year is a result of a confluence of multiple things such as abnormal weather, a drop in European production, competition with Asia over the limited supply of LNG and the “green push.”
Spot prices for natural gas in Europe rose 41 percent during November. On Nov. 30, the front-month Dutch TTF Gas Futures, a European price benchmark, with delivery during January 2022, closed down 1 percent from the previous day at €92.5 after it jumped by more than 5 percent in early morning trading, according to data on Intercontinental Exchange, Inc. website.

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan
Updated 02 December 2021

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan

Saudi Arabia kick off 2021 FIFA Arab Cup campaign with 1-0 defeat by Jordan
  • Herve Renard’s young Falcons created few chances during a match in which both teams had a man sent off

Saudi Arabia’s Arab Cup campaign began with a 1-0 defeat by Jordan on Wednesday at the Education City Stadium in Qatar. Both teams ended the game with 10 men.

While the result was not a huge shock, given the youth and inexperience of a young Green Falcons side shorn of most of their big-name players and featuring no outfielder born before 1999, the performance was disappointing, with few chances created until the dying moments. The Saudis were second best for much of the match, even though Jordan were reduced to 10 men after 53 minutes when midfielder Ehsan Haddad was sent off.

Despite the numerical disadvantage, the Nashama took the lead 10 minutes later thanks to Mahmoud Al-Mardi. And just as Saudi Arabia were beginning to press for an equalizer, defender Khalifa Al-Dawsari received marching orders of his own with 17 minutes remaining. The three-time Asian champions did manage to produce a late flurry that included an injury-time equalizer that was disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper.

Earlier in the day, Morocco moved into first place in Group C with a 4-0 victory over Palestine, so the defeat leaves the Saudis, who rarely troubled Jordan’s goalkeeper Yazeed Abulaila, with much to do if they are to progress to the last eight of the 16-team tournament.

Jordan had much the better of the first half, with nine attempts on goal. After 15 minutes, Yazan Al-Arab headed a corner straight into the arms of Mohamed Al-Rubaie. Moments later, a fierce long-range effort by Haddad went just over the bar.

The Reds were happy to shoot from distance, and after 25 minutes a looping shot by Mahmoud Al-Mardi from outside the area went wide. Soon after, Yazan Al-Naimat danced past a couple of Saudi challenges, only to shoot weakly at the goalkeeper.

The young Falcons struggled to get any sort of rhythm going at all, with Laurent Bonadei, manager Herve Renard’s assistant who is in charge of the team during games, growing increasingly animated on the touchline.

Eight minutes before the break, Jordan had their best chance so far. Al-Mardi’s left-sided cross seemed perfect but while Baha Faisal rose high above the Saudi defense to meet it, his header went well wide.

A goal looked to be coming and it seemed to have arrived a minute later. Just moments after Al-Naimat shot wide from a good position at the corner of the area, the Saudis gave the ball away cheaply. The forward gratefully received the ball near the penalty spot and made no mistake in firing home. However the VAR ruled that he was a centimeter or two offside during the build-up.

Saudi Arabia were happy to end the half on level terms after giving the Jordanian goalkeeper little to do — and their own coach much to think about.

The second half began in a similar vein as Jordan again came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock. Faisal got on the end of a free kick but his header hit the underside of the crossbar, and although Adnan Hamad’s men argued that the ball had bounced behind the line, play continued.

In the 53rd minute, Saudi Arabia seemed to get the break they badly needed when Haddad, who could have no complaints, was shown a straight red for a rash tackle on Turki Al-Ammar.

Yet Jordan recovered quickly from the setback to take the lead just after the hour mark. Faisal crossed from the left and, though the initial cross was blocked by Al-Dawsari, the ball fell to Al-Mardi whose shot hit the prone defender and bounced into the back of the net.

It took time after that for Saudi Arabia to get into the game but just as it was starting to happen, Al-Dawsari was sent off, with 17 minutes remaining, leaving both teams a man short.

Yet the boys from Riyadh should have equalized in stoppage time. Abdullah Al-Qahtani’s initial shot was saved by Abulaila at the near post but the ball bounced out to Aidan Hamed, only for him to blast it over the bar from a perfect position.

There was still time for controversy, as the Saudis had a goal ruled out after captain Saud Abdulhamid was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper when they both jumped for the ball.

“I’m really proud of my players, who gave their all in the match, but when we were 11 versus 10, we wanted to attack and score first and we made a mistake,” said Bonadei. “We did well but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I think we can improve. We have to win the next game against Palestine.”

That match will take place on Saturday, with Jordan taking on Morocco the same day.