As Jordan sinks deeper into debt and economic stagnation, some of the Arab worlds’ wealthiest nations have offered what amounts to a bailout for Amman’s long brewing economic troubles that have recently reached a breaking point. Jordan’s economic recession has inspired social discontent as an increase in already high (by regional standards) domestic energy prices combined with a proposed income tax increase led to the dramatic resignation of Prime Minister Hani Al-Mulki amid a wave of popular protests.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II has vowed to come to grips with the economic crisis without resorting to deeply unpopular tax increases. But in order to accomplish this, Jordan is going to need a great deal of external help and while the IMF has supported the so-called “austerity” measures, these solutions neither provide for social stability nor for the much needed long term revitalisation of the Jordanian economy.
Now it appears that a solution has been forthcoming in the form of a $2.5 billion aid package to Amman from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait. Along with the money from Jordan’s Gulfi Arab partners, the European Union has further vowed to come to Jordan’s aid.
In the coming days, one shouldn’t be surprised if one hears that the aid schemes from both the Gulfi Arab states and support from the EU are being justified as a way of keeping Jordan from sliding into chaos. In reality, genuine chaos in the Middle East has not come from economic recession but from foreign intervention and the countries that meddled in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Egypt in 2011, are not about to meddle in the affairs of their ally Jordan.
The real fear from the EU and parts of the Gulf Cooperation Council (minus Qatar and Oman) was that Jordan may have attempted to solve its problems with a pivot towards partnerships from the wider global east and south. This would not have represented a direct threat to Gulfi interests but would have represented something that would clearly worry the US and to a lesser extent, the EU.
The good news for Jordan is that when it comes to seeking and implementing a long-term solution to economic revitalisation, Amman’s best hope of long term sustainable revitalisation remains with partners from the “other sides” of the multipolar world as ultimately, aid packages, credit and cash injections are short term solutions to a debt crisis but they do not offer the long term solutions to the economic stagnation that caused the debt crisis in the first place.
What is needed for Jordan are modern, wide-ranging partnerships to create new transport, trade and production opportunities for a country that has been left behind by the success of its southern neighbours.
At present, Jordan’s only access to the sea is in the southern port of Aqaba. While Jordan has passively facilitated the use of its country by the US and its allies to infiltrate the neighbouring Syrian Arab Republic, as Syria’s southern border with Jordan stands on the verge of full liberation from Takfiri terrorists, it is all but inevitable that the border between the two countries will once again become normalised in the sense that it will no longer be a de-facto economic and civilian ‘no-go’ area.
The implications of this development for Jordan’s economic future are far greater than anything being discussed in most corridors at the moment. Syria has already signed numerous contracts with China, Russia and others for the re-building of Syria’s largely destroyed infrastructure. Because of this, loads of machinery, skilled labourers and commodities will need to be shipped into Syria. Because of the volatility of the Syria-Iraq border and the remoteness of this border from Syria’s main urban hubs, combined with the short-term impracticability of bringing restriction materials in through Turkey and the touch and go security situation on the Syria-Lebanon border, the most realistic ways that Syria’s foreign partners will be able to bring their materials into Syria is via Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
However, because of the volume of materials that will be needed in Syria, Jordan’s port of Aqaba could act as the wider global east’s road to Damascus, just as it had in centuries past. It is entirely conceivable that goods from China in particular could move from the Chinese mainland into Pakistan via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and then take the relatively easy journey from Pakistan’s Gwadar port to Aqaba and then straight to Damascus overland. Such a move would also encourage Pakistan to become involved in the post-conflict reconstruction of Syria which is an added bonus for regional cooperation, especially since Damascus has openly distanced itself from Modis’ Hindutva BJP government in India over its strong ties with “Israel”.
In the longer term, this same route could act as a transport corridor for Asian goods into southern Turkey and crucially it is one that fully bypasses “Israel” at a time when Ankara and Tel Aviv are going through a historic low point in bilateral relations. Such a logistical reality could help facilitate a much needed tripartite rapprochement between Amman, Damascus and Ankara.
If Iraq becomes less Iran friendly based on the likely reality of a would-be new government dominated by the increasingly Tehranophobic renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, a route from Iran’s Persian Gulf ports to Aqaba could also be a way of continuing commerce with Syria should the situation in Iraq deteriorate beyond what is currently foreseeable. Furthermore, as Jordan is a traditional western ally, Jordan can help promote the fact that post-conflict Iranian goods shipped into Syria will be civilian in nature as unlike unstable Iraq, Jordan is trusted by both the US and “Israel” not to allow Iran to ship in military hardware to Syria via this particular transport route. Thus, Jordan could be Iran’s win-win ‘insurance policy’ when it comes to maintaining a commercial rather than a military presence in south western Syria, something which also satisfies Russia’s desire for a foreign troop withdrawal from Syria.
In order to accomplish all of this, Jordan will need to deeply intensify relations with China and China’s close Russian partner while also quietly opening commercial avenues to Iran. Furthermore, Jordan must convey to Syria that it will not longer allow itself to be humiliatingly used by the US and other NATO forces as a gateway for foreign aggression into Syria. The latter is a tall order diplomatically, but for Amman, desperate economic times call for desperate geo-economic measures. As is becoming de rigueur in contemporary Middle East, Russia is the clear balancing diplomatic superpower that could make such an economically necessary Jordanian pivot possible.
Jordan’s overall lack of sea access combined with few valuable natural resources compared to many of its neighbours has been a long term detriment to its economic progress. The solution is to maximise the use of Aqaba while at the same time making the most of its central Levantine location as a historically “neutral” nation that should once again re-affirm its status as such while playing down its lopsided relations with the west and Tel Aviv.
If the choice is between becoming a multipolar partner of the countries that will be deeply involved in Syria’s post-conflict redevelopment versus becoming a permanent colony of the IMF, the decision should be abundantly clear to any Jordanian who values peace through prosperity rather than humiliation through enforced recession.
While Jordan may have received some temporarily relief, it still needs to employ fresh, imaginative solutions in order to becoming independent of financial assistance in order to remain economically solvent.