On the 7th of June 2016, The Jordanian Ambassador to the UK, Mr. Mazen Hamoud gave an address to the Durham Union Society on the current situation in Jordan and the Middle East. This review covers his speech in six sections:
- The Palestinian and Syrian refugee crisis
- Jordan’s Economic issues:
- The Issue of Daesh:
- Religious Equality in Jordan
- Politics in Jordan
- Politics in the US
- Palestinian and Syrian refugee crisis:
According to Mr. Hamoud, “20% of Jordan’s population are Syrian refugees, equivalent to Belgium’s population joining the UK. 1.3 million Syrians are living in communities rather than camps, as camps cannot fit them.” However, the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) suggest that Mr. Hamoud’s figures are significantly overstated, arguing that the total number of refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan stands at roughly 690,000 in 2015.
Jordan’s issue with refugees for him “is the same as the refugee crisis in Europe: they are taking advantage of infrastructure without gaining citizenship.” This is especially the case in education, where according to the Huffington Post, Jordanian schools are now operating double shifts to accommodate the urban refugees, as “170,000 Syrians are in Jordanian schools”. Rising upkeep costs of schools has consequently increased the burden on the Jordanian government.
However, it is not only the Jordanian education system that is being impacted but also the Government’s tax receipts. According to the Syria Needs Analysis Project, 160,000 Syrians are working illegally in Jordan without paying any taxes, denying potential government revenue to Jordan.
These problems are not going to be short term. Hamoud reminded us that “according to the UN it takes 15-17 years after a war for people to go back to their own country. He explained that the resolution to the problem of lost tax receipts involves Jordan giving work permits to refugees, as long as they do not compete with Jordanian industries such as agriculture and construction.” However, according to the Law Library, the list of prohibited industries includes other major industries such as engineering, medical and education. Hamoud demonstrated how Jordan has honoured their commitment to this, by agreeing in the London Conference of 2016 that Syrian refugees will be able to remain and get a job in the country. In return, the international community provided a grant of $3bn just for the Jordanian education sector, hence helping to lift the burden on Jordan’s education sector. He asserted that if this works in Jordan it could be used as a model in other countries that have a refugee crisis.
However, the Jordanian ambassador also warned against the UN’s favouritism to refugees over local Jordanians, claiming that the UN pays more to refugees than Jordanian farmers, which leads to instability. Crimes that are “terrible and bloody have occurred due to this culture absorption.”
- Jordan’s Economic issues:
Apart from the economic issue caused by refugees, Hamoud made us aware of those caused by a lack of water. “Jordan’s the fourth poorest country in terms of water.” The World Health Organisation (WTO) also acknowledges the issue of a lack of water in Jordan, observing that ‘water scarcity will become an even greater problem over the next two decades as the population doubles and climate change occurs… Increasing overall water extraction to meet demand carries a high cost.
It is not only water that Jordan desperately needs. It is also a high importer of energy. Hamoud noted that Jordan imported 96% of energy from abroad and this has been very problematic: until 2003 Jordan got cheap oil from Iraq, however, this ended following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Egypt went on to become the main supplier of gas, however, this ended during the Arab Spring of 2011.
Apart from energy related issues, the Jordanian Ambassador reminded us of the impact of Palestinian and Syrian refugees with the fact that Jordan’s debt to GDP ratio is 92%, once again highlighting the burden they have had on Jordanian public finances.
A possible way of reducing such debt could be by increasing Jordanian exports. Hamoud pointed out that “if 65% of a product is made in Jordan it can enter the EU competitively” and acknowledged that EU trade regulation has become more lenient to Jordan through agreement amongst themselves.”
Despite improved trade relations with the EU, Jordan’s trade in tourism has fallen as a result of instability in the Middle East. Hamoud lamented that some hotels in Petra have already closed down and will not come back until the crisis is solved. According to the World Bank, the year before the Arab Spring erupted across the region, some 8.2 million people visited the country, but by 2013 the figure was down to 5.4 million.
- The Issue of Daesh:
Along with Jordan’s trade in tourism, their trade in general has been heavily hit by the rise of Daesh. Hamoud claimed that “65% of Jordan’s land trade goes through Syria and Iraq” parts of which have been taken by Daesh, bringing Jordanian trade to a halt. The ambassador emphasised Jordan’s message on Daesh having to be “a global war” and that it is a “Third World War as a result despite not being a traditional war” later on adding that “if we do not deal with it they will come in different forms.”
When asked about the type of war being fought against Daesh, Hamoud saw it as “ideological” however, Daesh was also “a vehicle to get what people want”, as some of them do not want to lead a normal or poor life, hence they are doing it to get paid.
Hamoud highlighted what Jordan has successfully done in order to destabilise Daesh, such as bringing African Chiefs of staff together encouraging them to stop fighting, cooperate and form a task force against extremists in the continent. However, he also pointed out changes that need to be made in order to defeat the terrorist organisation, using the Iraqi army as his case study. When Iraq fought Iran in the 1980s, their army was both Sunni and Shia, which helped to keep Iraq united. However, now that the Iraqi army is predominantly Shia, and supported by large militias, such as the Shia Militia, Iraq is getting divided setting one against the other, hence making a resolution more difficult.
- Religious equality in Jordan:
Jordan’s opposition is also deeply rooted in Daesh’s opposition to equality of religion, which is at complete odds with Jordanian values. Hamoud emphasised how “There is no difference between a Christian and a Muslim in the Arab World or in Jordan”, as it is home of the Amman Message of 2004 that was adopted by all Muslims in the world with its statement that Islam should be balanced and about equality, without there being a difference between Muslims, Christians and Jews. He drew upon examples of Jordan’s protection of the Amman Message such as the Hashemite Kingdom helping to preserve the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Hamoud also pointed out how in the area of high politics, Jordan has protected religious equality by taking a lead in the war against Daesh, which for Jordan, have not only undermined religious equality, but have tarnished the name of Islam. This can be seen by the fact that although there are 1.5 billion Muslims, the 0.01% (Daesh) gives a much larger image of Islam, as a result of the media.
- Politics in Jordan:
Apart from Daesh, Jordan has also managed to resist domestic political instability where other countries such as Egypt or Yemen have had less success. For Hamoud, this was because “it is important for Jordan to have continuity with history”, citing part of his speech with the Foreign Secretary: because Jordan was ruled by the Hashemites, particularly King Abdullah who was the 42nd descendent of the prophet Muhammad, there was less instability in Jordan, as Abdullah’s ancestor gave him a strong legitimacy amongst his people, unlike military leaders such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
Hamoud however did recognise threats to Jordanian political stability, such as The Muslim brotherhood, which has “always been able to operate in Jordan”. Despite this, Hamoud claimed that they had a “red blind” to prevent the causation of instability, suggesting that the power of the Brotherhood will is still limited.
When it came to Jordan’s domestic politics and its relation with the Arab Spring of 2011, the Ambassador reflected on it positively. For him, it “helped expedite the economic and political reforms in Jordan that conservative leaders were previously against, as they saw it as leading to instability.” According to the Centre for Mediterranean, Middle East and Islamic Studies, protestors in Jordan called for measures regarding corruption and the resignation of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. The reaction of King Abdullah II was immediate, dismissing the cabinet and Prime Minister, forming a new government within a week. This was followed up by constitutional amendments and revisions such as the creation of a constitutional court and special independent bodies for election monitoring.
- Politics in the US:
For Hamoud, external politics seemed just as important as those of his own. This was observable in his analysis of Barack Obama, who he saw as wanting to “bring forces out of hot spots” and thinking that “if America can make peace with Iran, he will be able to focus on establishing trade with Asia and hence bring peace to the US”.
Interestingly enough, he blamed such policies for the rise of Donald Trump in the election polls, as the Republican nominee’s campaign is building on ideas that previously would never have been accepted just like those of Obama (despite a significant difference in their ideas). This is because since Obama has put drastic ideas into practice, such as negotiating peace with Iran and Cuba this has paved the way for the rise of other drastic ideas as a backlash, such as Trump’s advocacy of tighter security measures to be imposed on Muslims in the US, along with building a wall on the US Mexico border to reduce Mexican immigration.