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.”


President Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia signals new era in French-Saudi cooperation

President Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia signals new era in French-Saudi cooperation
Updated 51 min 36 sec ago

President Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia signals new era in French-Saudi cooperation

President Macron’s visit to Saudi Arabia signals new era in French-Saudi cooperation
  • Wide-ranging joint statement and slew of agreements testify to a growing Saudi-French bilateral partnership
  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Macron held telephone meeting with Lebanon PM Najib Mikati

JEDDAH: A joint statement covering a wide range of issues and the signing of a slew of agreements were the highlights of a visit to Saudi Arabia by French President Emmanuel Macron during the final leg of a two-day Gulf tour.

The agreements related to economic cooperation were announced by Saudi and French companies on Saturday while Macron held talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The crown prince met Macron at Al-Salam Palace, where they discussed bilateral cooperation and held a telephone call with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati.

The three countries agreed to work together to support comprehensive reforms necessary in Lebanon, according to official reports, which added that Saudi Arabia and France emphasized their keen desire to see security and stability prevail in the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as the president continued his multi-country tour of the Gulf. (SPA)

“The two sides stressed … that reforms should include the sectors of finance, energy, combating corruption and border control. The two sides also agreed to work with Lebanon to ensure the implementation of these measures,” the joint statement, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA), said.

“They also emphasized the need to limit arms to legitimate institutions of the state, and that Lebanon should not be a launching pad for any terrorist acts that destabilize the security and stability of the region, or a source of drug trafficking.

“They also … agreed to establish a Saudi-French mechanism for humanitarian assistance that ensures complete transparency, and expressed their determination to find appropriate mechanisms in cooperation with friendly countries and allies to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese people.”

Saudi Arabia and France have committed to enhancing cultural cooperation and exchange across a broad range of cultural fields. (SPA)

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “the two sides reiterated their support for achieving peace in the Middle East, and the importance of reaching a comprehensive settlement … to be based on the two-state solution, the relevant legitimate resolutions and Arab Peace Initiative in a way that ensures the right of the Palestinian people to establish their state on 1967 borders with East Al-Quds (Jerusalem) as its capital, calling, in this context, for an end to the Israeli settlement policy that threatens the two-state solution.”

With regard to Iran, the joint statement said: “The two sides expressed their deep concern over the development of the Iranian nuclear program and the lack of cooperation and transparency with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

INNUMBERS

$4.37bn French direct investment in KSA economy.

“France stressed its determination not to allow Iran to develop or acquire a nuclear weapon. They also agreed on the need to confront Iran's destabilizing activities in the region, including the use and transfer of drones and ballistic missiles that led to attacks on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Addressing the Yemen crisis, the statement said “France affirmed its full support for the Saudi peace initiative that was presented on March 22, 2021, and condemned the ballistic missile and drone attacks launched by Houthi militia and affirmed its historical commitment to preserving the security of the Kingdom.”

In other developments on Saturday, Dr. Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi, CEO of the Saudi Space Commission, and Philippe Baptiste, CEO of the French National Center for Space Studies, signed a joint cooperation agreement in the field of the peaceful use of outer space, according to the SPA.

The Saudi Arabia, France and Lebanon agreed to work together to support comprehensive reforms necessary in the mediterranean country. (SPA)

The agreement “aims to provide a framework for cooperation in space activities in the peaceful uses of space, facilitate the exchange of information and technologies, contribute to capacity building and competencies, organize mutual visits and meetings, hold training courses and specialized workshops, as well as the joint cooperation to develop a mechanism for space-based climate monitoring.”

The SPA also reported that a memorandum of understanding was signed on Saturday that cements cultural
relations between Saudi Arabia and France. “Coming only weeks after Saudi Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Farhan Al-Saud met with his French counterpart, Dr. Roselyn Bachelot, in Paris, the MoU is the latest example of strengthening cultural ties between the two countries,” the report said.

It added: “Under the five-year agreement, Saudi Arabia and France have committed to enhancing cultural cooperation and exchange across a broad range of cultural fields, including architecture, audiovisual production, design, film, heritage, literature, performing arts and visual arts.

The crown prince met the French president at Al-Salam Palace in Jeddah. (SPA)

“In addition, the MoU will facilitate the two countries to explore cultural regulations and policies. There will also be opportunities to increase the participation of Saudi and French artists in residency exchange programs and strengthen cooperation between artists and cultural institutions in both countries.”

The SPA said that a separate agreement to enhance tourism cooperation between the two countries was co-signed by Ahmed Al-Khateeb, the Saudi tourism minister, and Franck Riester, the French minister delegate for foreign trade and economic attractiveness.

It quoted Al-Khateeb as saying: "France, through its knowledge and experience, will help the Kingdom in developing its tourism activity to attract investments with a cost of $810 billion, which will provide the country with tourism opportunities outside the Hajj season. The Kingdom is expected to have new investment opportunities with a cost of $6 trillion by 2030, and this is a matter of excitement.”


Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Indonesia Semeru volcanic eruption kills 13; 10 evacuated

Indonesian rescuers and villagers evacuate a victim on a car in an area affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru in Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

JAKARTA: Ten people trapped after Indonesia’s Semeru volcano erupted have been evacuated to safety, the country’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) said on Sunday, as the death toll from the disaster climbed to at least 13 and with dozens injured.
Semeru, the tallest mountain on Java island, threw up towers of ash and hot clouds on Saturday that blanketed nearby villages in East Java province and sent people fleeing in panic.
The eruption severed a strategic bridge connecting two areas in the nearby district of Lumajang with the city of Malang and wrecked buildings, authorities said.
BNPB official Abdul Muhari said in a news release that 13 people have been killed after the eruption, two of whom have been identified. Ninety-eight have been injured, including two pregnant women, and 902 have been evacuated, the statement said.

Mount Semeru releases volcanic materials during an eruption as seen from Lumajang, East Java, Indonesia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. (AP)

Thoriqul Haq, a local official in Lumajang, said earlier that sand miners had been trapped around their work sites.
BNPB said at least 35 people had been hospitalized, while Lumajang’s deputy head said 41 people suffered burns.
Semeru, more than 3,600 meters (12,000 feet) high, is one of Indonesia’s nearly 130 active volcanoes. It erupted in January, causing no casualties.
Indonesia straddles the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a highly seismically active zone, where different plates on the earth’s crust meet and create a large number of earthquakes and volcanoes.
Separately, an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck north of Halmahera on Sunday, the European-Mediterranean Seismological Center (EMSC) said. Halmahera is about 2,000 km


Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 05 December 2021

Biden, Putin set video call Tuesday as Ukraine tensions grow

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Russian President Valdimir Putin at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. (AFP)
  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov

MOSCOW: Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that’s seen as a sign of a potential invasion.
Biden will press US concerns about Russian military activities on the border and “reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday, confirming the planned call after first word came from Moscow.
Putin will come to the call with concerns of his own and intends to express Russia’s opposition to any move to admit Ukraine into the NATO military alliance. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “the presidents will decide themselves” how long their talk will last.
The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware attacks against the United States. Biden said the US would take any necessary steps to protect critical infrastructure from such attacks.
Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the US
Russia is more adamant than ever that the US guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former US and NATO diplomats say any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.
US intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.
US officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,” Biden said Friday.
Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.
Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.
Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend stay at Camp David.
“I don’t accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.
Psaki said in a brief statement Saturday that Biden and Putin will discuss a range of topics in the US-Russia relationship, “including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues.”
She said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”
US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin for the Kremlin’s interference in US elections, cyberactivity against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.
When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating.”


Jeddah Art Promenade showpiece takes flight

Jeddah Art Promenade showpiece takes flight
Updated 05 December 2021

Jeddah Art Promenade showpiece takes flight

Jeddah Art Promenade showpiece takes flight

A golden falcon rises, wings outstretched, over the Jeddah coastline. Sela, the Saudi Arabian events producer, has unveiled the first art installation of its highly anticipated Jeddah Art Promenade.
The promenade is curated by renowned producer Swizz Beatz and his Saudi-headquartered creative agency, Good Intentions.
The one-of-a-kind sculpture by Kwest is visible for kilometers, perched amid the blue waters of the Jeddah Corniche, where the city is hosting thousands at the Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Creators of some of the region’s most sought-after experiences and attractions, Sela has staged more than 3,000 events since 2005, including MDLBEAST, the Italian Super Cup, WWE Crown Jewel, Riyadh Season and Jeddah Season, in addition to launching projects such as Boulevard Riyadh City and Jeddah Superdome.
Sela’s Jeddah Art Promenade is a beachfront boulevard featuring art monuments in a leisure, hospitality and retail district scheduled for completion in the coming months.
Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean is a Grammy-award winning producer and owner of one of the world’s largest art collections.
Recognizing the creative renaissance unfolding in the Kingdom with Saudi Vision 2030, Swizz Beatz found a base for his global agency in Saudi Arabia, co-founding Good Intentions with Saudi native Noor Taher.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Creators of some of the region’s most sought-after experiences and attractions, Sela has staged more than 3,000 events since 2005.

• These include MDLBEAST, the Italian Super Cup, WWE Crown Jewel, Riyadh Season, Jeddah Season, Boulevard Riyadh City and Jeddah Superdome.

Their curations leverage a vibrant community of contemporary artists to bring a new cultural experience to the Kingdom at Jeddah Art Promenade.
Shihana Alazzaz, Sela chairwoman and general counsel to the Public Investment Fund, said: “The ‘Wusul’ (‘Arrival’) installation from artist Kwest is a powerful statement of energy and creativity taking flight.
“We at Sela are thrilled to be working with Swizz Beatz and the Good Intentions team, headed by homegrown lead Noor Taher, to give vital art a platform, with special thanks to the organizers of Jeddah Season for making all of this possible.
“With more than a dozen installations planned, the Jeddah Art Promenade will blaze an iconic trail down our beautiful coast, offering visitors a visceral cultural experience and creating a landmark worthy of our nation’s vision.”
Swizz Beatz, co-founder of Good Intentions, said: “We’ve always wanted to work with the gatekeepers in that arena and knew Sela would be a partner aligned with our vision at Good Intentions. This is just a scratch on the surface, we’re only going bigger and more disruptive from here.”


JIMCO, CFS  to provide the world with limitless sustainable power

JIMCO, CFS  to provide the world with limitless sustainable power
Updated 05 December 2021

JIMCO, CFS  to provide the world with limitless sustainable power

JIMCO, CFS  to provide the world with limitless sustainable power

The Saudi-based Jameel Investment Management Co. has participated in a $1.8 billion funding round for a US fusion energy company, it has been announced.
JIMCO has invested an undeclared amount in Commonwealth Fusion Systems, a company founded in 2018 that is building the world’s first net-energy giant fusion system.
“The world is ready to make big investments in commercial fusion as a key part of the global energy transition,” the chief executive officer of CFS, Bob Mumgaard, said.
He added: This diverse group of investors includes a spectrum of capital from energy and technology companies to venture capitalists, hedge funds, and university endowments who believe in the impact fusion will have as we look for large scale solutions to decarbonize.”

FASTFACT

The Saudi-based Jameel Investment Management Co. has participated in a $1.8 billion funding round for a US fusion energy company.

CFS’ HTS magnet technology enables significantly stronger magnetic fields in a fusion device called a “tokamak,” existing versions of which rely on the scale of the device to attempt net energy.  HTS magnets support a high-field approach that will enable CFS to reach net energy from fusion with a substantially smaller, lower cost device and on a faster timeline.  This HTS magnet technology will be used in SPARC, now under construction in Devens, Massachusetts and on track to demonstrate net energy from fusion by 2025. 
 Fady Jameel, a member of the Jameel family’s investment supervisory board, said: “It is critical that private investors cultivate close, collaborative relationships with research scientists and universities.  The Jameel Family has nurtured our relationships with MIT, and others, supporting innovative thinking and development of emergent technologies towards solutions aiming to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”
“This investment in CFS is a step towards a more sustainable future for everyone demonstrating how ‘patient capital’, particularly from family investors, can show leadership in enabling transformational change by championing opportunities for business in the new green-tech economy.”