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Jordan between the Hammer of Economic Hardships and the Anvil of the “Deal of the Century”

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The public outrage seen in the Jordanian street has been growing louder, alongside the state’s failure to fight the country’s rampant administrative and financial corruption. The Jordanian government has of yet been unable to reform and change the status quo, and change the momentum of increasing economic hardships, income inequality, and inefficiency.

Jordan put forth an economic transformation program in 2008, to privatize their most successful firms in industries such as telecommunications, water and resource management, and trade facilitation. Since 2008, naturally, the government has lost billions of dollars in revenues. The loss was not just economic, but has also implicated political sovereignty: any country which loses control over its sources of return loses political power and influence internally, regionally and internationally.

After Jordan closed its border with Syria, Jordan faced a real threat with the rising unemployment rate and international pressure on the government and the people to accept new terms and conditions to harbor refugees from Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and other countries. This huge demographic bomb would be devastating to the original population of the country who would become a minority of less than 25%, and would deprive Palestinians and Syrians of the right of return to the homes.

Jordanian merchants and industrialists received threats from the US commercial attaché in Amman to stop trade with Syria, warning that if the demands were not obeyed, ac-cording to a law called “Ceasar,” Jordan’s position in the region would be aggravated. As a result, Jordan’s economic situation would continue to deteriorate, and unemployment rates would skyrocket, especially among the youth, which currently has an estimated unemployment rate of 40%.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have demanded and exerted pressures on Jordan to impose more taxes and tariffs; thus, Jordan has lost a golden opportunity to change its foreign policy accordingly because of too much dependence on foreign aid which has twisted the country’s arm not to maneuver with its foreign policy. Economic hardships have overshadowed political ones which prevented Jordan from maneuvering East and West, seeking new alliances and playing geopolitical games to improve its negotiating status as Jordan rejects the idea of being a homeland for refugees.

Jordan rejects the “deal of the century” because it entails that the country relinquishes its religious and sovereign rights to Christian and Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. What other countries currently seek is to pressure Jordan by proposing both Morocco and Saudi Arabia to be supervisors along with Israel and Jordan on the holy sites in Jerusalem. For Jordan, that means political suicide. The reasons behind this are to undermine Jordan, in favor of the alternative homeland project to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict –at the expense of Jordan or, in fact, at the cost of trans-Jordanians, who are Eastern Jordanian tribes.

Sit-ins which broke out in the summer of 2018 have been a platform for demonstrators to voice their criticism of senior officials, who are seen as responsible for the deterioration in economic and political conditions in the country.

This prompted Jordan’s King Abdullah II to hold a meeting on February 18th, 2019 with several former prime ministers in Al Husainiyeh Palace in Amman. King Abdullah discussed with former premiers on a range of domestic issues and regional developments. The meeting reveals the monarch’s concerns about people’s anger, which is escalating day after day against government performance and incompetence due to growing frequency of corruption and nepotism. Some politicians interpret the meeting as brainstorming and diagnosis of ways out of current pending issues that Jordanians are undergoing, including poverty, inflation, unemployment, and the demise of the middle class.

Just the day before the meeting, the former prime ministers received the invitation to meet with the king. Some considered the invitation as protocol while others regard it as an urgent matter due to recent developments the country is undergoing: higher rates of unemployment and indebtedness, economic recession, mounting inflation, and taxation.

What reflects the urgency of the meeting, is that on the same day the king visited the Tafilah governorate where he met with representatives and dignitaries of the province before returning to Amman to meet the former premiers in his palace. The king was in casual clothes, unlike the other attendees, indicating that either the king had no time to change or that he seeks to convey to message that it is time for deeds and not words. The king called for self-reliance by providing a real economic reform process.

Such a meeting comes at a time the whole Middle East region is undergoing existential threats. The king recognizes that it is time to expand strategies to ensure the country’s national interests and secure its people against any future conflicts. King Abdullah expressed disappointed by some cabinets as they have not addressed people’s concerns and have not improved their quality of life. This could also be the reason for this urgent call for the meeting.

The meeting was attended by former prime ministers Zaid al-Rifai, Ahmad Obeidat, Tahir al-Masri, Abdul Salam al-Majali, Abdul Karim al-Kabariti, Fayez al-Tarawneh, Abdul Raouf al-Rawabdeh, Ali Abual Raghab, Adnan Badran, Maarouf al-Bakheet, Sameer al-Rifai and Aoun Khasawneh.

The briefing by Jordanian media was vague and provided somewhat insufficient information on the three-hour gathering. The king stressed that “talk about political reform is not a motto; there is a real will to develop political life in the Kingdom.” The monarch was referring to previous discussion papers about the necessity of political reform along with the economic transformation. He said, “We are all partners in achieving progress for the benefit of the nation, and we all have a responsibility to deal with the current situation and challenges facing the Kingdom.”

Notably, the king elucidated that the development of Jordan political life requires the cooperation of all Jordanians, principally the political elites. He referred to recent meetings with parliamentary blocs and civil society institutions, in which he aimed to motivate them to submit proposals determining political, economic, and social priorities for the coming years. The king echoed these same goals in his meeting with the ex-prime ministers, preparing them to adhere to their responsibility to make positive changes for the country’s future.

The frequent royal meetings with officials and former officials stand for a state of cooperation which the monarch strives to forge to enhance the dialogue among Jordanians to develop political reform. The meeting with the 13 officials is significant at this critical time, as the King briefed the audience in eight minutes about his perspective of the domestic and regional situation. He expounded that Jordan faces various security, economic, and social challenges that require everyone to stand together to confront these predicaments whether such officials are still in office or retired.

Amongst the top priorities for the King are the enhancement of the rule of law and integrity of the judiciary. Likewise, he stressed the commitment of all institutions concerned to achieve this by respecting the law, promoting integrity and increasing efficiency, not only in the security apparatus but in the judiciary system that disseminates parity amongst people.

The king called for the strengthening of the capacities of state institutions to develop their performance at all levels, including the implementation of a program to address corruption and administrative sagging. He highlighted that economic challenges are most pressing and stressed the role of the private sector to provide jobs and contribute to economic growth.

On the challenges facing the region, King Abdullah said that Jordan’s priority is to safeguard the country’s national interests. The most critical elements are the return of Syrian refugees and the reconstruction of Syria after reaching a political settlement. The King said that Jordan’s position is consistent with the Palestinian Authority and Amman will not be deviated from Jordanian-Palestinian interests, no matter how much pressure is exercised on both sides. He conveyed full support to Palestinian to establish their independent state on their national soil, with East Jerusalem as their capital.

Jordan’s concerns were elucidated in the Dead Sea meeting of the four Gulf countries, Egypt, and Jordan at the end of January 2019, two weeks before the Warsaw Conference on Security and Peace in the Middle East. They are wary of normalization between Arab states and Israel when it comes at the expense of Jordanian and Palestinian conflicts.

The changing shift of focus from Palestine to Iran burns Jordanian political cards. In the meantime, the King is trying to open channels with Arab countries, Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, and Syria. He bids to strengthen Jordan’s relations with these four states, willing to build a regional bloc of four countries soon after political settlement in Syria. This could provide Jordanian diplomacy with other cards to play with. By diversifying Amman’s strategic options without difficulty, they can follow a more balanced approach to protect the country’s national interests.

The royal meeting with former officials is of high importance at a time when the region is undergoing many political, security and economic transformations which could lead to further conflicts. Especially critical is the threat of more predicaments to Jordan, due to lack of regional and international financial support. The message of the meeting is that Jordanians should sit together at all levels to find a solution to their problems without depending on others to bail them out.

At present, Jordan is undergoing the most dangerous juncture in its history, and the country is now between the hammer of the Century Deal and the bids to deprive Jordan of the religious and sovereign right to supervise the holy sites in Jerusalem. Such a move would lead to internal mobilization and un-controllable escalation. The US should consider Jordanian people’s interest before the leap to the “deal the century.”

From our partner RIAC

President of the Jordan-based Political Studies of the Middle East Center, Founder of the US-based Geostrategic and Media Center

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Middle East

China-US and the Iran nuclear deal

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Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian that Beijing would firmly support a resumption of negotiations on a nuclear pact [China Media Group-CCTV via Reuters]

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian met with  Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi on Friday, January 14, 2022 in the city of Wuxi, in China’s Jiangsu province.  Both of them discussed a gamut of issues pertaining to the Iran-China relationship, as well as the security situation in the Middle East.

A summary of the meeting published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry underscored the point, that Foreign Ministers of Iran and China agreed on the need for  strengthening bilateral cooperation in a number of areas under the umbrella of the 25 year Agreement known as ‘Comprehensive Cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China’. This agreement had been signed between both countries in March 2021 during the Presidency of Hassan Rouhani, but the Iranian Foreign Minister announced the launch of the agreement on January 14, 2022.

During the meeting between Wang Yi and Hossein Amir Abdollahian there was a realization of the fact, that cooperation between both countries needed to be enhanced not only in areas like energy and infrastructure (the focus of the 25 year comprehensive cooperation was on infrastructure and energy), but also in other spheres like education, people to people contacts, medicine and agriculture. Iran also praised the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and said that it firmly supported the One China policy.

The timing of this visit is interesting, Iran is in talks with other signatories (including China) to the JCPOA/Iran nuclear deal 2015 for the revival of the 2015 agreement. While Iran has asked for removal of economic sanctions which were imposed by the US after it withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018, the US has said that time is running out, and it is important for Iran to return to full compliance to the 2015 agreement.  US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in an interview said

‘Iran is getting closer and closer to the point where they could produce on very, very short order enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon’

The US Secretary of State also indicated, that if the negotiations were not successful, then US would explore other options along with other allies.

During the course of the meeting on January 14, 2022 Wang Yi is supposed to have told his Chinese counterpart, that while China supported negotiations for the revival of the Iran nuclear deal 2015, the onus for revival was on the US since it had withdrawn in 2018.

The visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister to China was also significant, because Foreign Ministers of four Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain — and Secretary General of GCC,  Nayef Falah Mubarak Al-Hajraf were in China from January 10-14, 2022 with the aim of expanding bilateral ties – especially with regard to energy cooperation and trade. According to many analysts, the visit of GCC officials to China was driven not just by economic factors, but also the growing proximity between Iran and Beijing.

In conclusion, China is important for Iran from an economic perspective. Iran has repeatedly stated, that if US does not remove the economic sanctions it had imposed in 2018, it will focus on strengthening economic links with China (significantly, China has been purchasing oil from Iran over the past three years in spite of the sanctions imposed by the US. The Ebrahim Raisi administration has repeatedly referred to an ‘Asia centric’ policy which prioritises ties with China.

Beijing is seeking to enhance its clout in the Middle East as US ties with certain members of the GCC, especially UAE and Saudi Arabia have witnessed a clear downward spiral in recent months (US has been uncomfortable with the use of China’s 5G technology by UAE and the growing security linkages between Beijing and Saudi Arabia). One of the major economic reasons for the GCC gravitating towards China is Washington’s thrust on reducing its dependence upon GCC for fulfilling its oil needs. Beijing can utilize its good ties with Iran and GCC and play a role in improving links between both.

The geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is likely to become more complex, and while there is not an iota of doubt, that the US influence in the Middle East is likely to remain intact, China is fast catching up.

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Middle East

Egypt vis-à-vis the UAE: Who is Driving Whom?

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Image source: atalayar.com

“Being a big fish in a small pond is better than being a little fish in a large pond” is a maxim that aptly summarizes Egyptian regional foreign policy over the past few decades. However, the blow dealt to the Egyptian State in the course of the 2011 uprising continues to distort its domestic and regional politics and it has also prompted the United Arab Emirates to become heavily engaged in Middle East politics, resulting in the waning of Egypt’s dominant role in the region!

The United Arab Emirates is truly an aspirational, entrepreneurial nation! In fact, the word “entrepreneurship” could have been invented to define the flourishing city of Dubai. The UAE has often declared that as a small nation, it needs to establish alliances to pursue its regional political agenda while Egypt is universally recognized for its regional leadership, has one of the best regional military forces, and has always charmed the Arab world with its soft power. Nonetheless, collaboration between the two nations would not necessarily give rise to an entrepreneurial supremacy force! 

Egypt and the UAE share a common enemy: political Islamists. Yet each nation has its own distinct dynamic and the size of the political Islamist element in each of the two countries is different. The UAE is a politically stable nation and an economic pioneer with a small population – a combination of factors that naturally immunize the nation against the spread of political Islamists across the region. In contrast, Egypt’s economic difficulties, overpopulation, intensifying political repression, along with its high illiteracy rate, constitute an accumulation of elements that serves to intensify the magnitude of the secreted, deep-rooted, Egyptian political Islamists.

The alliance formed between the two nations following the inauguration of Egypt’s President Al Sisi was based on UAE money and Egyptian power. It supported and helped expand the domestic political power of a number of unsubstantiated Arab politicians, such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied and the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereignty Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan. The common denominator among these politicians is that they are all fundamentally opposed to political Islamists.

Although distancing political Islamists from ruling their nations may constitute a temporary success, it certainly is not enough to strengthen the power of the alliance’s affiliates. The absence of true democracy, intensified repression by Arab rulers and the natural evolution of Arab citizens towards freedom will, for better or for worse, lead to the re-emergence of political Islamists. Meanwhile, Emirati wealth will always attract Arab hustlers ready to offer illusory political promises to cash in the money.   

The UAE has generously injected substantial amounts of money into the Egyptian economy and consequently the Egyptian State has exclusively privileged Emirati enterprises with numerous business opportunities, yet the UAE has not helped Egypt with the most critical regional threat it is confronting: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi’s exaggerated fascination with UAE modernization has prompted him to duplicate many Emirati projects – building the tallest tower in Africa is one example.

The UAE’s regional foreign policy that hinges upon exploiting its wealth to confront the political Islamist threat is neither comprehensible nor viable. The Emirates, in essence, doesn’t have the capacity to be a regional political player, even given the overriding of Egypt’s waning power. Meanwhile, Al Sisi has been working to depoliticize Egypt completely, perceiving Egypt as an encumbrance rather than a resource-rich nation – a policy that has resulted in narrowing Egypt’s economic and political aspirations, limiting them to the constant seeking of financial aid from wealthy neighbors.

The regional mediating role that Egypt used to play prior to the Arab uprising has been taken over by European nations such France, Germany and Italy, in addition of course to the essential and ongoing role of the United States. Profound bureaucracy and rampant corruption will always keep Egypt from becoming a second UAE! Irrespective of which nation is in the driver’s seat, this partnership has proven to be unsuccessful. Egypt is definitely better off withdrawing from the alliance, even at the expense of forgoing Emirati financial support.

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Middle East

Kurdish Education in Turkey: A Joint Responsibility

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Turkish elites often see Kurds as posing a mortal threat to their homeland’s territorial integrity. Kurdish elites often harbor pan-Kurdish dreams of their own.

Modern Turkish nationalism based its identity on statist secularism practiced by Muslims who are Turks. The secularist paradigm of a “Turkish Nation” struggled hard with accommodating Christians (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) and Kurdish-speaking Muslims. Kurdish coreligionists were expected to become Turks, i.e., to abandon their cultural heritage for the “greater good” of a homogenous Turkish nation.

This cultural-identity conundrum led to a century-long violent conflict, but also to genuine efforts by many Kurds and Turks to reach a common vision that would accommodate both Turkey’s territorial integrity and Kurdish cultural rights.

The rise to power of Erdogan’s Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002 appeared to imply a watershed, bringing about a measure of cultural liberalization toward the Kurds. More Islam seemed at first to signal less nationalistic chauvinism.

IMPACT-se, a think tank focusing on peace and tolerance in school education, pointed out in “Two Languages One Country,” a 2019 report that showed liberal elements being introduced in the Turkish curriculum by the AKP government. These “included the introduction of a Kurdish language elective program, the teaching of evolution, expressions of cultural openness, and displays of tolerance toward minorities.”

And while no open debate was permitted, IMPACT-se noted “a slight improvement over past textbooks in recognizing the Kurds, although they are still generally ignored.” Yet, the name “Kurd” is no longer obliterated from the curriculum. Kurdish-language textbooks were authored as part of a wider Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement.

In June 2012, the Turkish government announced for the first time, that a Kurdish elective language course entitled: “Living Languages and Dialects” (Yaşayan Diller ve Lehçeler), would be offered as an elective language for Grades 5–7 for two hours per week.

IMPACT-se studied these textbooks (published in 2014 and 2015 in Kurmanji and Zazaki) in its report  and found that the elective Kurdish-language program strengthens Kurdish culture and identity, while assuming a pan-Kurdish worldview devoid of hate against Turks. Included are Kurdish-historic places in Turkey, Iran and Iraq (but not Syria). The textbooks cover issues such as the Kurdish diaspora in Europe, the Kurdish national holiday of Newroz, with the underlying revolutionary message of uprising against tyranny. Children’s names are exclusively Kurdish. Turks and Turkey are not represented in the elective Kurdish books (but are obviously present across the rest of the curriculum).

The latter is a surprising and counter-intuitive finding. Textbooks published by Turkey’s Ministry of Education focus solely on the Kurdish side, with pan-Kurdish messaging, and no Turkish context. There could be several explanations for this, but the fact remains that Turkish-Kurdish relations are still not present in Turkey’s Kurdish language program.

The overall conclusion of IMPACT-se has been that this program is pioneering and generally excellent. There are some problems, however. One problem is that the elective program is minimalistic and does not meet Kurdish cultural needs. However, the program ignores the Turkish-Kurdish dilemma, hence projecting an inverted mirror image of the Turkish curriculum at large, which ignores the Kurdish question. There is no peace education in either curriculum. Therefore, IMPACT-se recommended enhancing the Kurdish-language program, while adding a healthy dose of pertinent peace education to the curriculum’s Turkish and Kurdish textbooks.

Sadly, the last few years have also seen broader moves by the Turkish government to quash Kurdish cultural and educational freedoms. The armed conflict between separatist groups and the Turkish military resumed in 2015, followed by the 2016 detention of high-ranking officials of the peaceful pro-minority People’s Democratic Party (HDP). By 2020, 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors on the HDP ticket in previous years had been forced out or arrested by security forces.

Simultaneously, elective programs such as Kurdish have been neglected and largely replaced by religious “elective” courses, which are often mandatory. Specifically, elective Kurdish courses are being clamped down or de facto erased in certain schools (despite being originally offered in 28 cities and with an expected enrollment as high as 160,000).

And then there is the question of full education in Kurdish. Article 42 of the Turkish Constitution bans the “teaching of any language other than Turkish as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institution of education.” And yet, Turkish authorities looked the other way between 2013 and 2016, as five fully Kurdish elementary private schools were opened in the southeastern provinces of Diyarbakır, Şırnak and Hakkari. The last of these schools, Ferzad Kemanger in Diyarbakır, was closed on October 9, 2016. Apparently these schools conveyed pan-Kurdish messaging (Ferzad Kemanger was an Iranian-Kurdish elementary school teacher. He was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and executed by Tehran in 2010).

There can be no Kurdish heritage without Kurdish languages, making the current situation untenable. Kurdish education should become a priority again.

But this is not enough. A common Turkish-Kurdish vision should be developed. Educationally, a serious effort should be directed toward educating both Turks and Kurds about the other’s identity, culture, shared history, commonalties, conflicts and interactions. 

Two ethnicities sharing one homeland in a volatile region pose a great challenge for both. A careful educational plan can lay the groundwork for peace and prosperity. Kurdish education in Turkey should be considered a joint responsibility leading to a common vision.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect an official position of IMPACT-se.

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