The latest protests that erupted in Jordan are threatening to unravel the kingdom that has been so far spared the fate of other Arab states that went through indigenous regime change.
Protests erupted yesterday and quickly turned into armed riots in several parts of the Kingdom, started when the government of Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour decided to lift government fuel and food subsides. Ensour argued on state television that this step was necessary in order to avoid the collapse of the country and in order to win the support of the International Monterrey Fund for new loans and other western donors.
From an economic perspective, this step by the government is perhaps long overdue in order to avoid mounting budget deficit and an eventual collapse of the state under its own weight. The government faces roughly $ 3 billion deficit which constitute about 40 percent of the budget.
The causes of the yearly budget deficits and mounting debt ( $22 billion) can be traced to incompetent prime ministers, economic and political corruption. Jordanian citizens therefore ended up footing the bill for lack of government planning and for appointing prime ministers without long- term mandates to fix the economy.
Throughout its 90 –year-old history in Jordan, the Jordanian monarchy has never appointed a government with a mandate to make long-term reforms and build a solid economy. Instead Jordanian premiers were hired and fired every few months and for specific political reasons.
PM Ensour is perhaps a very brave man to take this unpopular step and for being willing to sacrifice his political career for it in order to keep government functioning and at the same time keeping the King from taking the direct blame for the impending disaster.
The Jordanian government survived and paid the salaries of its civil servants and the army by depending on aid from foreign donors. Consecutive governments, therefore, felt no desire or pressure to reform the system or end the culture of corruption or its dependency on foreign aid.
Pro-reform and anti-corruption activists have been calling for more than two years for an end to government corruption with no avail. The lack of real political reform exasperated the problem even further.
The root cause of this problem in Jordan that caused it to teeter on collapse is the lack of vision on part of its monarchy and its political leaders. For Jordan to survive this hurdle and beyond, there should be a desire to transform the country from being an artificial state that without foreign aid and western political support would cease to exist into a real state that can support itself and its citizens as well as being able to defend itself.
Although Jordan is poor in natural resources in comparison to its neighbors, it does not have to have oil in order to survive if there is a will to make Jordan a modern independent country.
Jordanian leaders failed to take advantage of previous golden opportunities to build a real economy when it was flushed with aid from the Arab Gulf states during the 1970s- oil boom. It also failed to do just that when it received free oil from Iraq Saddam Hussein during the 1980s and the 1990s.
In addition, its leaders were notoriously corrupt and incompetent. Although corruption is not something new to Jordanian political culture, and it existed as long as the Kingdom existed, it is, however, becoming very close to undue the monarchy itself. This is because Arab and Western donors have increasingly become reluctant to bail Jordan over and over again. Saudi Arabia infused a quick $1.4 billion in the treasury last year and kept Jordan afloat and is unwillingly to do the same this year.
Arab Gulf states, like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are reportedly punishing Jordan pushing it over the brink for its unwillingness to take a stronger stance against the regime of Bashar Al Asaad in line with their more militarized approach to the Syrian uprising.
Jordan, which has strong economic ties with Syria, considers the risks too high to take the plunge and become an active participant in the armed Syrian conflict. Although it is unlikely that the rich Arab gulf states, the Europeans, the US and Israel are willing to let Jordan face a free fall or allow the demise of its monarchy. But for many states in the region, keeping Jordan on the brink, dependent on foreign welfare, and permanently in the ICU unit is helpful to keep it under control.
(Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at : email@example.com)