Last Friday, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour
announced a suspension of the subsidy on
all fuel products including gas, kerosene and petrol. Although
stoves were cold, the streets were on fire with the largest protester turn-outs
since the summer of the Arab Awakening. Within days, people were
speculating whether or not the Jordanian regime was reaching its expiry
This was premature for a number of reasons. Many pointed to the entrenchment of the Jordanian regime, the majority of people who prefer the King to an Islamist alternative. Others pointed to the fact that the government proposed a cash compensation of up to JD600 a year for low-income families to make up for the lack of subsidy. Still others discounted the protests as nothing more than a bout of opportunism by the Islamic Action Front - piggybacking on public anger to regain lost territory in the realm of public opinion. Protests died down in no small part due to the supreme management of the Police Forces and the authoritative prowess of the Police Chief. All of these reasons are legitimate and explain a large part of what is taking place in Jordan, but not quite all of it.
Jordan's debt is in the billions. Its
economy rests, "almost entirely on external aid to finance
expenditures" according to economy analyst Saleem Haddad. Those who
control the intravenous drip of this aid play a big part in determining how anaesthetized
the population is - namely, the United States and Gulf donors. For months
now, the Gulf along with the west have cut Jordan off, plunging the country
into painful withdrawal. The reason is unclear, but not financial.
A billion dollars in aid is not a particularly taxing sum for Gulf
powerhouses. What they seem to be doing is holding Jordan out over
the ledge, showing the government the steep long fall, twisting
his arm until he says "uncle".
From this point on in the story, one can only speculate. There is no way to know what negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. Al-Quds newspaper suggests that this power play is Syria-related - that the unspoken allies of the Free Syrian Army want Jordan to deploy a military presence into Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid, but that the Jordanians have refused. Others postulate that the issue has more to do with a so-called "Final Solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bombardment of Gaza has a lot to do with it. With Hamas gaining legitimacy via Egypt, the Palestinian Authority is looking increasingly outdated. Could the west be looking for someone to who could hold onto the West Bank in its stead? Jordan's donors are flexing their muscles, and what could Jordan be scared into doing?
Time will tell who is manipulating whom. Regardless, there are several courses of action possible for Jordan. The most desirable would be for Jordan to start a steady transfer of power to an elected Prime Minister. It must be made clear to the west that the government is accountable not only to the IMF and his donors, but also to their people. Whoever he is, he must make sure that the people's disgruntlement is utilized constructively to build a nation. Last week, protesters in Jordan were shouting facetious slogans that were unthinkable only years ago. Jordan's allies have turned up the heat. The kettle is whistling, but has not boiled over.