Jordan’s Countless Transition | by Ursula Lindsey


Police blocking protesters after the arrests of the leaders of the Jordanian Teachers’ Syndicate, Amman
Jordan Pix/Getty PhotosPolice blocking protesters after the arrests of the leaders of the Jordanian Lecturers’ Syndicate, Amman, July 29, 2020

On a day in late July, the central neighborhood of Amman the place I dwell was suffused with stifled agitation. Schoolteachers had been making an attempt to collect for a protest in a visitors circle close to the prime minister’s home. It has lengthy been a preferred spot for demonstrations, and to discourage them it has been lined with a tough plastic lattice and encircled by a spiky fence. That afternoon policemen had been additionally posted on each nook for miles round, questioning drivers and turning pedestrians away.

The academics’ syndicate, one of many few unbiased associations in Jordan, has been at loggerheads with the federal government for a while. Lecturers had been additionally on strike final fall, once I moved to Amman with my household. Again then I used to be shocked by how sympathetic folks had been to them, regardless of principally unfavorable media protection and the disruption of the start of the varsity yr. However the academics’ hottest slogan was: “We’ll all go hungry collectively or we’ll all eat collectively.” It resonated in a rustic the place one of many greatest complaints is the price of dwelling.

Jordan was already troubled by excessive unemployment and public debt, corruption, and social inequality earlier than the pandemic struck. In response to Covid-19, the authorities instituted a national lockdown that stopped its unfold but additionally floor the financial system to a halt. The inevitable stoop might properly convey extra unrest, and the federal government has moved to preempt dissent and mass mobilization by imposing martial regulation, shutting down the academics’ syndicate, and intimidating journalists. These measures might maintain Jordan quiet, however they’re unlikely to unravel its present disaster, not to mention its deeper issues, a few of which date again to its creation.

Winston Churchill boasted that he created the Amirate of Transjordan with a stroke of his pen one sunny Sunday afternoon in Cairo in 1921. The unlikely kingdom was a comfort prize for Abdullah, the second son of Hussein, the sharif of Mecca, whose household, the Hashemites, had been descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Abdullah and his brother Faisal, inspired by T.E. Lawrence, had led the British-supported Arab Revolt towards the Ottoman Empire between 1916 and 1918. After World Battle I and the collapse of the Ottomans, Faisal grew to become king of Iraq. Abdullah, the extra formidable and tough of the 2 brothers, had hoped to rule over a brand new Arab nation that included Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian peninsula. As a substitute he ended up with a small, arid puzzle piece of land. Immediately Abdullah’s great-grandson King Abdullah II of Jordan is the one member of the Hashemite household nonetheless in energy wherever within the Center East.

All through a lot of its historical past, observers have questioned the nation’s capacity to outlive. The Israeli historian and Oxford professor Avi Shlaim, who has written a number of books about Jordan, describes it as “an impecunious and insignificant desert kingdom” and “a political anomaly and a geographical nonsense.” “Each article by a Western educational or journalist used to say that Jordan received’t exist for lengthy,” Mustafa Hamarneh, the president of Jordan’s Financial and Social Council, an advisory physique to the Jordanian authorities, informed me final winter. He factors out that the nation has outlasted all these predictions, however “the issue is it hasn’t gotten its act collectively…. I used to begin each discuss by saying, Jordan goes via its most important financial and political transition interval. Nevertheless it’s an limitless transition.”

The nation sits on the heart of an especially risky area. Within the east it juts into deserts shared with Iraq and Saudi Arabia; within the south it has a tiny toehold on the Gulf of Aqaba. Within the north it abuts Syria and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Within the west one can gaze throughout the slender, lush Jordan River Valley and the melancholy mirror of the Lifeless Sea onto Israel and the occupied West Financial institution.

Jordan has lengthy been a buffer between its highly effective and sometimes belligerent neighbors, absorbing refugees from Palestine, Iraq, and Syria and investments from oil-rich Iraq and the Gulf nations. It has at all times trusted exterior patronage, however it has maneuvered adroitly between its backers, appearing as a mediator in Center Japanese conflicts and sometimes punching above its weight in world affairs. In current a long time Jordan got here to be seen as an important element of the regional order and of Israel’s safety. Since 1989 it has been the recipient of main loans from the World Financial institution and Worldwide Financial Fund (the most recent $1.3 billion IMF mortgage was agreed to in January 2020) and, since signing a peace settlement with Israel in 1994 as a part of the Oslo course of, of about $1.5 billion in US assist yearly.

This small, closely policed, US-backed kingdom looks as if an exceptionally quiet place. But on a better look Jordan’s stability begins to seem extra like a stability so precarious that everybody, irrespective of how dissatisfied, fears upsetting it. The nation exists in a state of “perpetual fragility,” as one native journalist put it.

“Jordan is a semi-rentier state in that it depends to an excellent extent on overseas assist, a lot of it coming from the Gulf, on remittances from staff within the Gulf, and on funding from the Gulf,” says Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian overseas minister. But all of those sources of income have been declining since 2014, together with oil costs. Even earlier than the Covid-19 disaster, Jordan’s overseas debt was practically one hundred pc of GDP. Unemployment was 19 p.c, and 30 p.c among the many younger—figures that are actually believed to have elevated dramatically. The state forms, military, and police make use of 42 p.c of the formal workforce. In remoted cities within the inside, that determine rises to as excessive as 90 p.c. Reducing these public sector jobs is seen as each a long-term necessity and a menace to the federal government’s survival.

Jordan isn’t simply operating a price range deficit; it is usually operating a water deficit. It’s the fifth most water-poor nation on the earth, and local weather change is predicted to make the scenario even worse: a examine by Stanford College’s Jordan Water Challenge estimated that below present situations, rainfall there might lower by 30 p.c and temperatures enhance by 6 levels by the top of the century. For many years Jordan has been drawing extra water from its underground aquifers than might be naturally replenished. The Disi aquifer, which it shares with Saudi Arabia and which it started tapping in 2013, will not be anticipated to final greater than fifty years. Hundreds of unlawful wells are accelerating the method.

Municipal water is piped in as soon as every week and saved in water tanks on buildings’ roofs. The nation loses as a lot as 50 p.c of its water to leaks and theft—usually, reportedly, by giant landowners and politically related notables. Regardless of makes an attempt to crack down on theft, pipelines carrying water to Jordan’s cities are repeatedly vandalized to divert tens of hundreds of cubic meters to farms or to steal it for resale. In Could an assault interrupted the water provide to components of Amman and close by areas.

In early March, in response to the unfold of Covid-19, Jordan closed its colleges, airport, and borders; inside days, the federal government declared martial regulation. Troopers and tanks had been deployed at checkpoints throughout the nation. For over a month, driving required a particular allow (given solely to important medical and meals supply staff) and the streets had been eerily empty. The one approved exercise was searching for meals, on foot, at native shops. Violators had been fined and hundreds of personal automobiles impounded. A curfew was in place from 6 PM to 10 AM. The authorities even thought-about a complete lockdown, with meals deliveries made door-to-door; they deserted the concept after 4 days, when buses delivering backed bread had been mobbed by panicked crowds.

These measures largely succeeded: as of September 23 there had been solely 6,042 circumstances and 35 deaths. There have been so few circumstances that superspreaders grew to become celebrities, named, shamed, and practically stalked on social media: the daddy who contaminated visitors at his son’s wedding ceremony, the pharmacist whose household didn’t comply with quarantine guidelines, the truck driver who unfold the illness at an iftar, the dinner breaking the Ramadan quick. The entire lockdown was lifted, in phases, on the finish of April (some restrictions have since been reimposed, for restricted instances and on specific areas). Borders stay closed, however the airport was partly reopened in September.

The financial impact of the nationwide closure has however been daunting. Jordan is house to 2 million registered Palestinian and 655,000 Syrian refugees (down from a peak of 1.5 million a number of years in the past). Lots of them work casual day jobs and have been notably hard-hit by the lockdown; refugee camps had been sealed off solely. Jordan can also be house to an estimated a million overseas staff, a lot of them with out authorized papers, who work the roles Jordanians don’t need—Egyptians as doormen, waiters, and development staff; girls from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Ethiopia as maids and nannies. Lots of them have misplaced their jobs and been stranded, unable to go house both as a result of they owe residency charges or can’t get a repatriation flight.

The closure devastated the rising tourism sector, which was trying ahead to its peak season and what might have been considered one of its finest years. Petra, the traditional Nabatean web site with its well-known church carved into the pink rock, was sprayed with disinfectant, however with the airport closed, no guests got here. When, in June, my husband and I hiked up Wadi Mujib—a spectacular sandstone canyon carved by a river operating to the Lifeless Sea—we had it nearly solely to ourselves.

Some view the present disaster as a wake-up name. “We can’t maintain a rentier financial system anymore,” says Muasher. “That financial system has led to the killing of productiveness, led to patronage, led to wasta,” he says, utilizing the frequent Arab phrase for private connections. “That’s the prevailing tradition. You need a job, it’s important to have a wasta. It’s not your advantage, it’s not productiveness, that decided whether or not you advance or not…. It’s good to transfer from a rentier system that maximizes patronage to a productive system that focuses on advantage.” But Muasher admits such a shift would take no less than a technology to realize and would require main reforms.

“Jordan does face actual challenges and it’s caught in an actual bind,” says Lina Ejeilat, one of many founders and editors of the unbiased information web site 7iber (Ink). Its reporters have lined the lockdown in Jordan by specializing in its affect on abnormal folks: doormen, truck drivers, café waiters, garment staff, small lodge homeowners. “The federal government’s choices are restricted,” Ejeilat informed me. It’s “placing out fires on a regular basis.”

Jordan has lengthy been formed by the Israeli-Palestinian battle. When the British withdrew from Mandate Palestine in 1948 and the primary Arab-Israeli warfare broke out, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israel’s leaders secretly coordinated to every seize components of the territory designated for a future Palestinian state; the plan left Jordan answerable for the West Financial institution and East Jerusalem. Abdullah granted Jordanian citizenship to his new Palestinian topics, however this didn’t extinguish their nationalist aspirations. In July 1951 the king traveled to Jerusalem to attend Friday prayers on the al-Aqsa mosque. As he stepped throughout the brink, a younger Palestinian nationalist emerged from behind the door and shot him point-blank within the head. He additionally shot Abdullah’s fifteen-year-old grandson, the longer term King Hussein, however the bullet was deflected by a medal that the boy’s grandfather had insisted he put on that morning.

Hussein assumed the throne the following yr and dominated till 1999, maneuvering his means via a protracted sequence of crises, conflicts, tried coups, and assassinations. The younger British-educated king turned out to be pugnacious, shrewd, and impulsive; he was a political survivor, bon vivant, and man of motion who liked flying and using bikes and was married 4 instances.

In 1967 Hussein suffered the best lack of his reign. Regardless of misgivings, he was drawn into the Six-Day Battle, which resulted within the naksa, or disaster: Egypt misplaced Sinai, Syria misplaced the Golan Heights, and Jordan the West Financial institution and Jerusalem. An estimated extra 250,000 Palestinian refugees poured into the Hashemite kingdom.

For a while Hussein believed that he might regain the West Financial institution by buying and selling peace for land with Israel, however negotiations led nowhere. In the meantime, an unbiased Palestinian management emerged and primarily based itself in Jordan, difficult the king’s authority. In 1970, within the civil warfare generally known as Black September, Jordanian military items shelled Palestinian neighborhoods and drove the Palestinian fedayeen, or freedom fighters, out of the cities and finally in a foreign country. A whole bunch of Jordanian troopers and hundreds of Palestinian fighters had been killed.

After that, the Jordanian monarchy deserted the concept of representing the Palestinian folks and of regaining management of the West Financial institution. A division between so-called West Bankers (Palestinian Jordanians) and East Bankers (Jordanians from the inside of the nation) emerged as an unstated, fraught political fault line, with the federal government recruiting nearly completely from East Financial institution Jordanians for its administration, police, and armed forces. East Financial institution Jordanians fear continuously in regards to the energy of Palestinian Jordanians, who dominate the personal sector but additionally complain about discrimination.

Because the signing of the peace settlement with Israel in 1994, relations between the 2 nations have been cooperative however chilly; Jordanian public opinion has by no means supported the deal. And for the final yr Jordanian officers have been on edge over Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to annex 30 p.c of the West Financial institution. The current announcement that Israel will quickly droop annexation in alternate for the normalization of relations with the United Arab Emirates has achieved little to allay Jordanian issues. The federal government fears that annexation will enflame home opinion, or that it will likely be the prelude to Israel transferring Palestinians to Jordan.

This isn’t a groundless suspicion: Ariel Sharon was some of the aggressive proponents of the “Jordan is Palestine” view, arguing that one of the simplest ways to unravel the Palestinian query was to topple the Hashemite monarchy and create a Palestinian homeland right here. If Israel doesn’t need to rule over a majority-Arab inhabitants, “what possibility does it have however to attempt to do away with a lot of Palestinians, and the place would they go?” Muasher mentioned to me. “That’s Jordan’s worry, that Israel right this moment is working to threaten its existence, its safety, its id.”

For Jordan, the rapprochement between Gulf nations and Israel and the top of any prospect of a two-state answer have additionally put in jeopardy its regional function as a mediator. Muasher and others have gone as far as to counsel withdrawing from the peace settlement, though such a transfer would incur the wrath of the Saudis, the Emiratis, and the US, on which the nation relies upon not only for direct assist however for entry to much-needed worldwide financing. However such financing can’t be counted on at a time when each nation on the earth is battered by the pandemic. Realizing this, the Jordanian authorities has been touting the significance of “self-reliance.” However, says Muasher, “when you’re going to ask folks for extra sacrifices, it’s important to give them a significant voice in operating the nation’s affairs.” Not to take action is “in all probability a components for social unrest.”

King Abdullah II, who got here to energy in 1999, shares his father’s love for the military, athletics, and hobbies comparable to piloting helicopters, driving race automobiles, and using bikes. (He’s additionally a Star Trek fan and as soon as had a walk-on function within the sequence.) And like his father, he’s Western-educated (Sandhurst and Oxford) and has an excellent affinity for america, the place he went to boarding faculty. The king views himself as a reformist and a modernizer. In a remarkably candid interview with Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic in 2013, he complained about having to cope with deceitful Islamists, “dinosaurs” amongst tribal leaders, sabotage from his personal intelligence companies, and members of the family jealous of their perks. But like different would-be reformers within the area, Abdullah has proven little propensity for really devolving energy and little willingness or capacity to stamp out corruption (a 2011 protest chant referred to him as Ali Baba and his entourage as “the forty thieves”). It’s nonetheless uncommon to listen to any direct criticism of the king, which is definitely unlawful. Hostility has as a substitute targeted on Queen Rania, a safer goal: she has been attacked for her Palestinian origins, political affect, Western model of costume, and rumored lavish life-style.

Whereas till now Jordan hasn’t skilled the sorts of uprisings and upheavals its neighbors have, it has had its share of protest actions within the final decade. Their calls for might be summarized merely: extra illustration, much less taxation. In 2011 and 2012, through the Arab Spring, protesters referred to as for reform of the electoral system, which privileges the hinterland over the cities and well-connected people over political events with precise packages. This yields a fragmented parliament elected on the idea of patronage networks, with no clout in comparison with the true facilities of energy: the monarchy and the Normal Intelligence Directorate.

The election regulation has been revamped repeatedly with out altering its fundamental construction. In response to the Arab Spring, the king additionally dedicated to some constitutional reforms. However as elsewhere within the area, authorities concessions have been adopted by a backlash. “After a gap in 2011, when folks had been demanding reforms, amendments had been handed in 2014 and 2016 that really concentrated energy within the arms of the king,” in line with Ejeilat. “Extra restrictive legal guidelines had been handed: a media regulation, terrorism regulation, cybercrime regulation. Individuals are being detained and brought to court docket for Fb posts.” In a dialogue I as soon as witnessed amongst younger Jordanians of modest backgrounds, it was hanging what number of instances the phrase “worry” got here up in reference to political participation. They let you know to hitch political events, one boy mentioned, however then you definately get a go to out of your “cousin”—a euphemism for the intelligence companies.

Protests broke out once more in 2018 over an unpopular tax proposal and rising fuel costs, and as soon as once more changed into broader complaints about corruption, the price of dwelling, and Jordan’s dependence on worldwide monetary establishments. Protesters chanted refrains comparable to: “Are you aware who governs us? The damned Financial Fund. Take your cash and go away us alone,” and “Oh Disgrace, oh Disgrace, they’ve offered Jordan for {dollars}.”

The king’s response has been to temporize, introduce beauty reforms, and dismiss the federal government. Jordanian cupboards, appointed by the monarch, change with alarming frequency, which makes them unaccountable and ill-suited to finishing up long-term change. “It’s nearly a main minister’s job to take the blame and get sacked when the strain mounts,” says Ejeilat.

A serious grievance stays corruption, by which individuals imply many alternative issues: the necessity to pay bribes; the handing out of presidency jobs primarily based on private connections; the privatization, within the Nineties, of nationwide telecom, mining, and public transportation corporations, together with the nation’s solely maritime port; the siphoning of cash from public contracts and overseas assist initiatives; the fortunes made by outstanding politicians and businessmen who’re near the royal household.

For the poet and novelist Hisham Bustani, it’s a extremely controversial fuel take care of Israel that’s the “severest instance of corruption, lack of growth, the way you destroy a rustic.” Bustani led a nationwide marketing campaign towards the deal, which was first introduced in 2014. The federal government refused to supply the textual content of the settlement to parliament, besides on two events when it briefly circulated single copies to a committee that was given little time to learn them. Parliament nonetheless voted towards it, to no avail, twice—out of opposition to normalizing relations with Israel and issues that the deal will not be economically helpful to Jordan (which already imports fuel from Egypt via Aqaba).

Calls for for change in Jordan have been tempered by the dire aftermaths of different Arab Spring uprisings, says Mustafa Inform, a author and media government from a outstanding Jordanian political household (his uncle Wasfi Al Tal served as prime minister thrice and was assassinated by a Palestinian militia): “The anger is there, the frustration remains to be there, however there’s a brand new factor: worry. The federal government performs so much on what’s occurred in Syria…. Individuals say: I don’t care if I’m poor. I don’t care if I can’t voice my opinion. No less than I’m not getting killed.” To undermine protest actions right here, says Al Tal, the authorities co-opt their leaders and play up divisions between Islamists and secularists, East and West Bankers, city and rural areas, refugees and residents. However, he provides, “the most important division right this moment is between the haves and the have-nots.”

Inequality and segregation are woven into the geography of Amman itself, which is without doubt one of the most costly cities within the area, regardless that the month-to-month minimal wage is barely 220 Jordanian dinars ($310) and 15 p.c of the inhabitants lives in excessive poverty, outlined as an revenue of lower than $1 a day. The capital is a brand new metropolis, slightly greater than a century previous, its beige stone buildings unfold over hills divided by deep gulches and highways. Particularly in current a long time, it has grown shortly, haphazardly, and nearly solely on the service of the auto.

A small historic heart is the assembly level between the denser, working-class East Amman—the place most Palestinian and Syrian refugees dwell—and spacious and opulent West Amman, the place overseas embassies, personal colleges, authorities ministries, and malls proliferate, and an espresso prices simply as a lot as in New York or London. The farther west one travels within the metropolis, the larger the gardens and villas grow to be, the extra frequent the Vary Rovers, Hummers, and Mercedes SUVs. There are neighborhoods stuffed with imported meals retailers, ice cream parlors, and cafés, however no sidewalks.

“Amman is now ghettoed and ghettoized. The areas the place you might be built-in and be a part of the center of the town are only a few,” says Samar Dudin, a theater artist and educator who grew up within the capital and is the regional director of the Ruwwad affiliation. Ruwwad runs a neighborhood heart, library, and academic house in East Amman, giving scholarships to underprivileged youth who volunteer in its packages. The realm is house to one of many nation’s oldest Palestinian refugee camps, and suffers from the same old issues of marginalized city areas: excessive charges of unemployment, crime, drug abuse, and home violence. Ruwwad has supported native campaigns to get a bus cease, a police station, and a clinic. Throughout the lockdown, Dudin informed me, the group distributed cellphone playing cards to its younger volunteers; they spent days on the cellphone gathering information on households in want, and the middle was capable of ship emergency meals packages to over one thousand households. The library began a program lending laptops, smartphones, and tablets to youngsters so they might do their schoolwork on-line.

In Jordan, “everybody feels they’re a minority. Nobody feels they’re a majority,” Dudin as soon as informed me. And but through the lockdown, she says, “lots of people mobilized, not simply us. The best factor was to see the quantity of power and generosity of spirit.”

That spirit might now be fraying. One more and more hears complaints that the federal government is making choices unilaterally, with little session or rationalization. Public debate has been stifled by martial regulation, nationalist propaganda, and intimidation. It’s a crime to unfold information that would “‘trigger panic’ in regards to the pandemic.” In April the final supervisor and information director of a preferred information outlet, Roya TV, was arrested for a broadcast that includes poor Jordanians complaining of dropping their livelihoods because of the lockdown. In August the well-known political cartoonist Emad Hajjaj was arrested for mocking the UAE’s resolution to normalize relations with Israel.

Immediately, says Ejeilat, the authorities “are very aggressive. They haven’t any persistence. They need to get the message out: No person consider saying something, everybody shut up.” The authorities have additionally chosen this second to behave extra freely towards political opposition. In July a Jordanian court docket ordered the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood—the nation’s foremost political group, whose actions have lengthy been tolerated—for not complying with a brand new regulation regarding political events.

Then there’s the academics’ syndicate, which was fashioned in 2012, through the Arab Spring. It has 100,000 members and an elected management. Lecturers earn a beginning wage of 450JD ($630) a month. Their strike within the fall of 2019 lasted a month, till they received a partial elevate, of about 50JD ($70) a month, from a clearly disgruntled authorities and king.

However this spring, citing the necessity for austerity, the federal government froze public sector raises, together with the one for the academics. The syndicate was incensed and commenced planning motion. The opportunity of academics voicing financial calls for that different teams may undertake appears to have alarmed the authorities. On the finish of July, a decide issued an order closing the syndicate. Police raided its workplaces throughout the nation, arrested its leaders, and sealed its doorways. In a single viral video, a police officer was requested for a warrant; “I’m the warrant,” he replied.

The academics who had been protesting these developments had been by no means capable of collect within the roundabout close to my home. As a substitute, that day, a few of them made their approach to a unique circle, the place they had been blocked, crushed, and arrested. Since then, there have been protests and clashes in cities throughout the nation, amid a near-total media blackout. No less than 5 hundred academics have been detained. Some went into hiding, posting movies and updates anonymously.

The syndicate has been charged with planning to take “inflammatory measures” (a reference to plans to strike once more) and different unspecified monetary crimes. The decide within the case additionally issued a gag order, forbidding any dialogue of or touch upon the case within the press or on social media. However government-connected social media have been free to disseminate movies accusing the syndicate of dividing the nation and, with scant proof, of being a Brotherhood entrance.

This heavy-handedness has accelerated the unfold of rumors and distrust. In late August new clusters of Covid-19 infections appeared in a metropolis within the north and in a manufacturing facility. Some blamed migrants and refugees for the brand new infections; others mentioned the numbers had been being inflated by the federal government as an excuse to crack down on the hanging academics. A border area with Syria was sealed off, however when police tried to arrest one curfew-breaker there, a riot broke out. Individuals are bored with the pandemic and, like many elsewhere on the earth, would relatively imagine the menace isn’t actual. Social distancing and correct masks sporting have waned, regardless of the specter of fines and even jail time.

The numbers of latest circumstances have continued to rise: on September 22 there have been 634, essentially the most but recorded on a single day. The federal government has made it clear that Jordan can’t afford one other complete lockdown, and that the nation might want to coexist with the virus. Whether or not it might probably dwell with all its unintended penalties is one other query.

—Amman, September 24, 2020



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