« MENA around the Web | Main | notes from the organizer, oct 16 »

October 16, 2006



Interesting... You didn't write too much about the impact of having so many Iraqis recently come to Jordan, though. From what I've heard, the cost of living and housing prices have gone way up because of this, at least in certain areas of Amman. And are many of the Iraqis Shia? If so, is that causing any friction?


It's a great question - I didn't write about it in part because I've asked a few people if they would write something specifically on that topic. Hopefully they will. I think you're right about both points - the impact on the economy (similar to the impact of returnees from the Gulf in the early 1990s) and the Shia angle (I posted something on AA a while back about unprecedented 'Shia threat' rhetoric in the Kingdom).


Comparisons between now and the late 1980s (which are admittedly common among public policy critics in Amman) are politically bold, but the economic differences are vast. In terms of unrequitted capital transfers (e.g., external grants), foreign reserves, and debt servicing, the Central Bank/Ministry of Finance/Ministry of Planning have forged a much more healthy budgetary outlook. One reason is that the IMF program in the 1990s, despite some nagging externalities, largely succeeded in restructuring the government's fiscal priorities (thanks also to Paris Club and bilateral donor generosities). Combined with a rejuvenated GID and the reassertion of royal (ie, diwan) primacy, it is highly unlikely that a domestic trigger, such as the loss of government subsidies on consumer goods, could cause mass rioting on the scale of April 1989, or even August 1996. An economist in Amman recently mentioned (anonymously, of course) that the oil price hikes of the last year relative to median income were quite comparable to the fuel hikes of 1989, taking into account inflation and PPP. Why the political quietism? Surely the paltry protests in the run-up to the Iraq War (even the US Embassy was surprised at their timidity) didn't blow off all the steam.

But the comparison to pre-1989 still makes some sense on the political level, especially in terms of the incumbent's credibility and popular support for the government (that is, cabinet, not the diwan). The royalists no longer have a political safety valve to unleash this time around; for true reformists, liberalization no longer wears the novelty it once did. Others see Jordan First, the National Agenda, the creation of the Political Development Ministry, and now We Are All Jordan as different shades of the same co-opting mechanism that the royalists have typically used to bring in potential, or known, opponents (anybody remember the Jordanian National Union?). The only problem is that the regime does not have another Gulf War to burnish its Hashemite credentials.
What's that classical Arabic mathal--"Maa ashbah al-yawm bil-baariha"? That does seem appropriate right now, at least politically. But if the regime does have something on its side, it is that there is little chance external powers will allow the kingdom to sink into an insolvency-driven spiral of political drift.


Sean, those are really good points. The one flaw is that the GID was just as empowered and active in the late 1980s as it is today (remember the student protestors getting drilled at Yarmouk University in 86?), and that didn't prevent things from getting out of hand. If I had to speculate as to why things haven't (and likely won't) gone towards protest recently, I'd look at the patriotic rallying around the throne after the terrorist attacks, as well as the amount of externally-directed outrage (at the US and Israel). But terror rally effects wane over time, and the external outrage only ratchets up the tension... at some point, one of those thwarted marches on the Israeli Embassy may turn violent, or more violent than it has to date.


Well said--and if I recall it was none other than everyone's favorite Lower House Speaker who headed the student-bashing PSD then. Unsettling, when one remembers who the second-term President of JU was at the time...

marwan asmar

Everytime there is talk of a parliamentary election in Jordan there is also talk about postponment with many stating the pros and cons, the local factors against the regional and even the international factors. But the fact is we in Jordan need to have parliamentary elections on time regardless of our "situation" because simply stated there is never a good time, but there is a manageable time. Timely elections are good because they speak of a growing maturity of the political system and the strenght of the Kingdom's democratic institutions. So what if Islamists win or of people of any other political persuasion do so for that matter. The democratic experiment in Jordan has continued since 1989 and it has managed to blend in well with the prevailing social, political and economic institutions. If each time there is talk of a general election, there is a talk of the pros and cons, then all we are doing is wasting time and dithering about our political future. Thinking about the Hamas win in the Palestinian territories and comparing it with the Jordanian situation is not actually very productive because of the different context. Despite much talk about raising costs and other problems, Jordan today is changing like no other time in its history. Its changing social make-up with new stratas coming on the scene, not to speak of the up-wardly mobile, not to speak of the new job opportinities that are available, and its economic boom, influx of investments and even influx of Iraqis mean that the country is developing on a stronger footing, and that's why it needs strong political institutions like parliament as a wave of the new times and as a means of checks and balances.


What are the prospects for local elections?

The comments to this entry are closed.