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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

Beyond the friendship diplomacy between Morocco and Mauritania

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Over the past decade or so, many politicians and diplomats have held that the most significant bilateral relationship has been between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. That remains true today, and it will be likely the case for long- term partnership to come, even as the sort of that relationship changes over time. Due to, diplomatic rapprochement between them and bilateral cooperation on several levels, Mauritania, tends formally to withdraw its full recognition of the Polisario Front “SADR” before the term of the current president, Mohamed Ould Al-Ghazwani, ends.

Yet, the truth is that Mauritania has unalterably shifted from the previous engagement with Morocco to the recent conflict with it on nearly all the key fronts: geopolitics, trade, borders security, finance, and even the view on domestic governance. To that extent, Mauritania was the most affected by the Polisario Front militia’s violation to close the Guerguerat border crossing and prevent food supplies from reaching their domestic markets. This crisis frustrated Mauritanian people and politicians who demanded to take firm stances towards the separatists.

In the context of the fascinating development in relations between Rabat and Nouakchott, the Mauritanian government stated that President Ould Ghazwani is heading to take a remarkable decision based on derecognized the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) and Polisario Front as its sole representative and follow up the recent UN peace process through the case of Western Sahara conflict under UN Security Council resolutions.

Similarly, the United States announced that “Moroccan (Western) Sahara is an integral part of The Kingdom–a traditional Ally, and it supports the Moroccan government’s constitutional procedures to maintain Moroccan Southern provinces strong and united.” It was rapidly followed by all major countries of African, and the Arab Middle East also extended their supports to the government in Rabat. What a determined move against the Polisario Front separatism in a sovereign state!

During the Western Sahara dispute, the Moroccan Sahrawi was humiliated to the end by Polisario Front: it not only lost their identity but also resulted in the several ethnics’ claim for “independence” in the border regions within. currently, Morocco is the only regional power in North Africa that has been challenged in terms of national unity and territorial integrity. The issues cover regional terrorism, political separatism, and fundamental radicalism from various radical ethnic groups. Although the population of the “Polisario groups” is irrelevant because of Morocco’s total population, the territorial space of the ethnic minorities across the country is broadly huge and prosperous in natural resources. besides, the regions are strategically important.

In foreign affairs doctrine, the certainty of countries interacting closely, neighboring states and Algeria, in particular, have always employed the issue of the Western Sahara dispute in the Southern Region of Morocco as the power to criticize and even undermine against Morocco in the name of discredit Sahrawi rights, ethnic discrimination, social injustice, and natural resources exploitation. therefore, local radical Sahrawi groups have occasionally resisted Morocco’s authority over them in a vicious or nonviolent way. Their resistance in jeopardy national security on strategic borders of the Kingdom, at many times, becoming an international issue.

A Mauritanian media stated, that “all the presidential governments that followed the former President Mohamed Khouna Ould Haidala, a loyal and supporter to the Polisario Front, were not at all satisfied with the recognition of the SADR creation due to its fear that it would cause reactions from Algeria. however, Mauritania today is not the state of 1978, it has become a well-built country at the regional level, and the position of its military defense has been enhanced at the phase of the continent’s armies after it was categorized as a conventional military power.”

This is what Mauritania has expected the outcome. Although neighboring Mauritania has weeded out the pressures of the Algerian regime, which stood in the way of rapprochement with the Kingdom of Morocco, and the Mauritanian acknowledged that Nouakchott today is “ready to take the historic decision that seeks its geopolitical interests and maintain strategic stability and security of the entire region, away from the external interactions.” Hence, The Mauritanian decision, according to the national media, will adjust its neutral position through the Moroccan (Western) Sahara issue; Because previously was not clear in its political arrangement according to the international or even regional community.

Given the Moroccan domestic opinion, there is still optimistic hope about long-term collaboration on the transformation between Morocco and the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, even considering some temporary difficulties between the two in the Western Sahara conflict. For example, prior Mauritania has recognized the Polisario since the 1980s, but this recognition did not turn into an embassy or permanent diplomatic sign of the separatist entity in Mauritania, the Kingdom has a long-standing relationship with Mauritania and the recent regional politics would not harm that, because it’s a political circumstance.

Despite the strain exerted by the Polisario Front and Algeria on Mauritania, and intending to set impediments that avoid strategic development of its relations with Rabat, the Mauritanian-Moroccan interactions have seen an increased economic development for nearly two years, which end up with a phone call asked King Mohammed VI to embark on an official visit to Mauritania as President Ould Ghazwani requested.

For decades, the kingdom of Morocco has deemed a united, stable, and prosperous Maghreb region beneficial to itself and Northern Africa since it is Kingdom’s consistent and open stance and strategic judgment. Accordingly, Morocco would continue supporting North Africa’s unity and development. On the one hand, Morocco and Mauritania are not only being impacted by the pandemic, but also facing perils and challenges such as unilateralism, and protectionism. On the other hand, Rabat opines that the two neighboring states and major forces of the world necessarily established their resolve to strengthen communication and cooperation with each other. To that end, both states would make efforts to set up long-term strategic consensus including mutual trust, reciprocal understandings, and respect to the United Nations and the current international system based on multilateralism.

In sum, both Morocco and Mauritania are sovereign states with a strong desire to be well-built and sophisticated powers. Previous successes and experiences in solving territorial disputes and other issues have given them confidence, which motivated both countries to join hands in the struggles for national independence, equality, and prosperity. In sense of the world politics, two states promise to advance the great cause of reorganization and renovation and learn from each other’s experience in state power and party administration.

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Getting Away With Murder: The New U.S. Intelligence Report on the Khashoggi Affair

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It was October 2, 2018 when a man walked into the Saudi Arabian consulate to collect some documents he needed for his impending marriage.  He had been there earlier on September 28, and had been told to allow a few days for them to prepare the needed proof of divorce from an earlier marriage.

So there he was.  His Turkish fiancée had accompanied him and he asked her to wait outside as it would only take a minute or two.  She waited and waited and… waited.  Jamal Khashoggi never came out.

What went on inside is a matter of dispute but US intelligence prepared a report which should have been released but was illegally blocked by the Trump administration.  Mr. Trump is no doubt grateful for the help he has had over two decades from various Saudi royals in addition to the business thrown his way at his various properties.  “I love the Saudis,” says Donald Trump and he had kept the report under wraps.  It has now been released by the new Biden administration.      

All the same, grisly details of the killing including dismemberment soon emerged because in this tragic episode, with an element of farce, it was soon evident that the Turks had bugged the consulate.  There is speculation as to how the perpetrators dispersed of the corpse but they themselves have been identified.  Turkish officials also claim to know that they acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government.  They arrived on a private jet and left just as abruptly.

The egregious killing led to the UN appointing a Special Rapporteur, Agnes Callamard.  She concluded it to be an “extra-judicial killing for which the state of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”  She added, there was “credible evidence”  implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior officials.  

Now the US report.  Intelligence agencies conclude Jamal Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit squad under the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  They add that the latter has had unitary control over Saudi security and intelligence organizations and thus it was “highly unlikely” an operation of this nature would have been possible without Prince Mohammed’s authorization.

Mr. Biden’s reaction is plain.  Although the Crown Prince is the de facto ruler with his father the King’s acquiescence, Mr. Biden has not talked to him.  He called the king and emphasized the importance placed on human rights and the rule of law in the US.

President Biden is also re-evaluating US arms sales to the Kingdom with a view to limiting them to defensive weapons — a difficult task as many can be used for both, a fighter-bomber for example.

There are also calls for sanctions against the Crown Prince directly but Biden has ruled that out.  Saudi Arabia is after all the strongest ally of the US in the region, and no president wants to jeopardize that relationship.  Moreover, the US has done the same sort of thing often enough; the last prominent assassination being that of the senior Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani,  by the Trump administration.  

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US intelligence report leaves Saudi Arabia with no good geopolitical choices

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The Biden administration’s publication of a US intelligence report that holds Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi creates a fundamental challenge to the kingdom’s geopolitical ambitions.

The challenge lies in whether and how Saudi Arabia will seek to further diversify its alliances with other world powers in response to the report and US human rights pressure.

Saudi and United Arab Emirates options are limited by that fact that they cannot fully replace the United States as a mainstay of their defence as well as their quest for regional hegemony, even if the report revives perceptions of the US as unreliable and at odds with their policies.

As Saudi King Salman and Prince Mohammed contemplate their options, including strengthening relations with external players such as China and Russia, they may find that reliance on these forces could prove riskier than the pitfalls of the kingdom’s ties with the United States.

Core to Saudi as well as UAE considerations is likely to be the shaping of the ultimate balance of power between the kingdom and Iran in a swath of land stretching from the Atlantic coast of Africa to Central Asia’s border with China.

US officials privately suggest that regional jockeying in an environment in which world power is being rebalanced to create a new world order was the key driver of Saudi and UAE as well as Israeli opposition from day one to the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran that the United States together with Europe, China, and Russia negotiated. That remains the driver of criticism of US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive the agreement.

“If forced to choose, Riyadh preferred an isolated Iran with a nuclear bomb to an internationally accepted Iran unarmed with the weapons of doom,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and founder of the National Iranian American Council. Mr. Parsi was summing up Saudi and Emirati attitudes based on interviews with officials involved in the negotiations at a time that Mr. Biden was vice-president.

As a result, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Israel appear to remain determined to either foil a return of the United States to the accord, from which Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald J. Trump, withdrew, or ensure that it imposes conditions on Iran that would severely undermine its claim to regional hegemony.

In the ultimate analysis, the Gulf states and Israel share US objectives that include not only restricting Iran’s nuclear capabilities but also limiting its ballistic missiles program and ending support for non-state actors like Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, and Yemen’s Houthis. The Middle Eastern states differ with the Biden administration on how to achieve those objectives and the sequencing of their pursuit.

Even so, the Gulf states are likely to realize as Saudi Arabia contemplates its next steps what Israel already knows: China and Russia’s commitment to the defence of Saudi Arabia or Israel are unlikely to match that of the United States given that they view an Iran unfettered by sanctions and international isolation as strategic in ways that only Turkey rather than other Middle Eastern states can match.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE will also have to recognize that they can attempt to influence US policies with the help of Israel’s powerful Washington lobby and influential US lobbying and public relations companies in ways that they are not able to do in autocratic China or authoritarian Russia.

No doubt, China and Russia will seek to exploit opportunities created by the United States’ recalibration of its relations with Saudi Arabia with arms sales as well as increased trade and investment.

But that will not alter the two countries’ long-term view of Iran as a country, albeit problematic, with attributes that the Gulf states cannot match even if it is momentarily in economic and political disrepair.

Those attributes include Iran’s geography as a gateway at the crossroads of Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe; ethnic, cultural, and religious ties with Central Asia and the Middle East as a result of history and empire; a deep-seated identity rooted in empire; some of the world’s foremost oil and gas reserves; a large, highly educated population of 83 million that constitutes a huge domestic market; a fundamentally diversified economy; and a battle-hardened military.

Iran also shares Chinese and Russian ambitions to contain US influence even if its aspirations at times clash with those of China and Russia.

“China’s BRI will on paper finance additional transit options for the transfer of goods from ports in southern to northern Iran and beyond to Turkey, Russia, or Europe. China has a number of transit options available to it, but Iranian territory is difficult to avoid for any south-north or east-west links,” said Iran scholar Alex Vatanka referring to Beijing’s infrastructure, transportation and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative.

Compared to an unfettered Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE primarily offer geography related to some of the most strategic waterways through which much of the world’s oil and gas flows as well their positioning opposite the Horn of Africa and their energy reserves.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia’s position as a religious leader in the Muslim world built on its custodianship of Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, potentially could be challenged as the kingdom competes for leadership with other Middle Eastern and Asian Muslim-majority states.

On the principle of better the enemy that you know than the devil that you don’t, Saudi leaders may find that they are, in the best of scenarios, in response to changing US policies able to rattle cages by reaching out to China and Russia in ways that they have not until now, but that at the end of the day they are deprived of good choices.

That conclusion may be reinforced by the realization that the United States has signalled by not sanctioning Prince Mohammed that it does not wish to cut its umbilical cord with the kingdom. That message was also contained in the Biden administration’s earlier decision to halt the sale of weapons that Saudi Arabia could you for offensive operations in Yemen but not arms that it needs to defend its territory from external attack.

At the bottom line, Saudi Arabia’s best option to counter an Iran that poses a threat to the kingdom’s ambitions irrespective of whatever regime is in power would be to work with its allies to develop the kind of economic and social policies as well as governance that would enable it to capitalize on its assets to effectively compete. Containment of Iran is a short-term tactic that eventually will run its course.

Warned former British diplomat and Royal Dutch Shell executive Ian McCredie: “When the Ottoman Empire was dismantled in 1922, it created a vacuum which a series of powers have attempted to fill ever since. None has succeeded, and the result has been a century of wars, coups, and instability. Iran ruled all these lands before the Arab and Ottoman conquests. It could do so again.”

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