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Iran: Coronavirus, economy and politics

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The coronavirus known under the official name of Covid-19 has been raging across Europe for nearly four months. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a pandemic.

According to data on the morning of March 16, the total number of Covid-19 infections in 146 countries amounted to 162687 people, 76% of which registered in four countries – China, Italy, South Korea and Iran. According to the latest data from the Iranian Ministry of Health, on March 16, the number of coronavirus infections in the country reached almost 14,000 people, 4,590 of whom recovered. The death toll amounted to 724 people.

Here are charts that demonstrate the situation for 14 – 15 March.

Mortality rate from coronavirus per 1 mln. for 14 March 2020.

Country Number of deaths per 1 mln. residents
1 San-Marino 147.3
2 Italy 23.8
3 Iran 7.3
4 Spain 4.1
5 China 2.2
6 Luxemurg 1.6
7 Switzerland 1.5
8 Korea, Republic 1.4
9 Guyana 1.3
10 France 1.2
11 World 0.7

The mortality rate among those diagnosed with coronavirus varies widely. If we consider countries with the number of 15 cases or more, mortality rate as of March 14, 2020, range from 0.1% in Norway to 9.9% in Iraq. In comparison, a seasonal flu usually kills less than 1% of those infected.

Mortality rate in percentage points among those infected for 14 March 2020.

Country Mortality (% of deaths in relation to infected) Number of infected (official reports)
1 Iraq 9.90 101
2 Philippines 8.16 98
3 Algeria 8.11 37
4 Italy 6.81 21 157
5 Azerbaijan 6.67 15
6 Argentina 6.45 31
7 Bulgaria 6.45 31
8 San Marino 6.25 80
9 Ecuador 5.88 17
10 Indonesia 5.21 96
11  Iran 5.20 13 938
12  China 3.80 8 1003
13  World 3.72 16 2687
14  All countries except China 3.65 81 684

Iran is among the main victims to Covid-19. Of course, not being an epidemiologist, an infectious disease specialist, a virologist, a bacteriologist, a specialist in the field of sanitation, it is difficult to ascertain why some countries are more exposed to coronavirus, others less, regardless of geographical location or distance from the original source of the epidemic – in this case, China.

Iran demonstrates a very high mortality rate from this virus – 5.2%. Another feature of the pandemic in Iran is that many government officials have succumbed to it. According to Iranian MP Abdulrez Mesri, at least 23 deputies of the Majlis have been infected with Covid-19. The first Vice President of Iran, Eskhak Jahangiri, Iranian Vice President Masume Ebtekar, Ali Akbar Velayati – adviser to the spiritual leader of Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Mohammad Sadr, member of the Council for determining the appropriateness of decisions,  Minister of Tourism, Cultural Heritage and Crafts Ali Asgar Munesan, Minister of Commerce, Industry and Mines Reza Rahmani. In addition to them, among the afflicted is Deputy Minister of Health, who led the government coronavirus group, Iraj Harirchi, and the head of the emergency medical service, Pirhossein Kulivand.

Perhaps no other country has reported so many fatalities from Covid-19 among senior officials and politicians as Iran. In the weeks during which the coronavirus raged in Iran, it unfortunately took the lives of such statesmen as: member of the Council on Expediency Mohammad Mirmohammadi, former Iranian Ambassador to the Vatican and Deputy of the Mfjlis Hadi Khosroshahi, former Iranian Ambassador to Syria and adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hossein Sheikh al-Eslam, former adviser to the head of the Foreign Ministry, Ahmad Toiserkani – adviser to the head of the judiciary of Iran, Ibrahim Raisi, Farzad Tazari – deputy head of the political affairs department of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), General IRGC Nasser Shaabani, who served in the Corps for 37 years, Mohammad Khoja Abolkasemi – an important person in the intelligence and power circles, Mohammad Reza Rahchamani – a prominent politician of the liberal reform wing, Fateme Rahbar, a radically conservative woman politician who was re-elected to the Majlis in the February 21 elections, Mohammad Ali Ramezani, who was also re-elected to the new parliament. In addition, in recent days, three high-ranking officers of the IRGC died from coronavirus in Iran.

The coronavirus epidemic began in Iran in late January – early February. The epicenter of the epidemic was the holy city of Qum – the ideological capital and spiritual center of Shiite Muslims around the world, “the nest of the Prophet and his family,” as believers say. Why, – many observers and political scientists are wondering. After all, Qum is not a multi-million-dollar capital like Tehran, where life buzzes churning a myriad of visitors from different countries thereby contributing to the fast spread of the virus. Qum is not the most popular tourist center in Iran – it is located in a desert, it is populated mostly by Shiite clerics, or Shiite supporters, and it has a variety of religious communities with their own customs and traditions. However, Qum is a popular destination for Shiite pilgrims from all over the world.

Political analysts tend to believe that Qum became the center of Covid-19 epidemic because it has a fairly large concentration of Chinese per area. One of Iran’s major spiritual and educational centers – International University “Al-Mustafa” – has more than 40,000 undergraduates, more than 700 of them come  from China.

Significantly, there are about 40 million Muslims in China, about four million of them are Shiites (mainly Ismaelites). Tehran, without encroaching upon the sovereignty of China, has been pursuing a cautious purpose-oriented policy among the Chinese Muslims, creating an Iran-friendly public environment, including through holding religious and ideological training in Islamic centers in Qum. Some Chinese nationals return home as pro-Iranian missionaries.

What is interesting to learn is that in 2014  Qum’s religious centers began to teach Chinese and Chinese language programs were introduced in seminaries in Esfahan and other cities.

Speaking about the rising number of Chinese in Iran we must remember that trade and economic relations between the two countries have been developing at fast pace despite the US sanctions.  According to the results of the year 2018, trade between Beijing and Tehran increased by 12% to 42 billion dollars.

In September 2019 Iran and China signed a package of agreements which envisages China’s 400 billion dollar worth investments in Iranian economy within the next 25 years. Namely: 280 billion will go to the oil, gas and  petrochemical industries of Iran, another 120 billion will be channeled to upgrade the transport and production infrastructure in Iran. Given that plans to modernize the infrastructure and industrial facilities in Iran fully match the Chinese One Belt, One Road initiative, the loan program and the construction project went into operation and Chinese experts headed to Iran.

The agreement signed provides for the deployment of up to 5,000 Chinese security employees in Iran in order to protect Chinese projects. In addition, according to Iranian sources, the parties concerned are looking into the possibility of attracting extra forces for the protection of transit supplies of oil and gas to China via the  Persian Gulf.

China is skillfully finding its way into Iranian business. In the conditions of anti-Iranian sanctions China occupies niches vacated by US-dependent companies and businesses. (This was the case during the 2012-2015 sanction period, this is the case now). The Chinese privately run small and medium-sized businesses have been  particularly active.

Chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Massoud Khansari underscored as he visited Beijing in November 2019 that private sector plays a great role in the development of economic ties between the two countries. Interestingly, the cooperation agreement was signed between the Iranian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the private sector of China and Iranians living in the north of China.

Overall, hundreds of Chinese companies and organizations employing thousands of Chinese nationals are operating in Iran. Chinese businessmen are present in Qum too.

Although the presence of Chinese (as we now know, they are potential coronavirus carriers) in Iran was not the only cause of such a fast spread  of the disease, but on February 19, two days before the Iranian government announced a coronavirus epidemic, a businessman who had returned from China died in Qum.

Several factors contributed to Iran turning into one of the Covid-19 epidemic centers.

Firstly, the Iranian authorities delayed the official announcement of the epidemic for fear of a low turnout at the February 21 Majlis elections, even though every day, every hour the disease claimed more victims.

Secondly, Qum’s clergy came out against medical recommendations issued by the Ministry of Health, including introduction of quarantine, in a belief that “the invisible hand of the enemy was behind the emergency recommendations from health officials”.

The Mullahs insisted that the holy city of Qum was immune to all disease. They urged residents to visit the local shrine – Fatima Masumeh sepulcher – to pray for the sick in order to secure a miraculous recovery for themselves. 

When the officials suggested quarantine for the Fatima Masumeh mosque, Khamenei’s chief representative in Qum Mohammad Saidi agreed with the majority of the Qum clergy that the mosque should not be closed. Mohammad Saidi announced on February 22 that “no one would let the enemy portray Qum as a dangerous place; that defeat of Qum was the dream of crafty Trump and his  mercenaries but that dream would never come true, even in their graves”….

The same scenario was observed nearly all over the country. Thousands of believers gathered in mosques to pray for health. This led to a dramatic increase in the number of people infected and considerable delays in taking anti-virus measures.

Thirdly, the political situation in Iran of late has been tense. The epidemic struck Iran right after a number of crisis events: mass protests against rising petrol prices in November 2019 which transformed from economic to political; the killing of General Soleimani and the aggravation of Iranian-American relations; the mistaken shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner with Iranian nationals on board. This distrust in the authorities on the part of the public led to people ignoring the recommendations of health officials in the first weeks of the epidemic. This had a negative effect on the anti-virus effort as well.

Fourthly, the healthcare system in Iran, even though it has been progressing in recent years, is far from the level needed to address a pandemic. Though, in general, the health service in the country is better and much more effective than in most countries of the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, what delayed the modernization of Iranian healthcare system was austere international sanctions which were imposed against  Iran in 2012-2016, and  the US sanctions introduced in 2018. Iran was de facto deprived of the opportunity to purchase modern medical equipment, medicaments, research materials and other kinds of medical and sanitation produce in required quantities. All this is the result of the restriction of trade with Iran and a fall in Iranian incomes.

However, despite the difficulties, Iran has achieved impressive progress in biotechnology, which will likely serve as a scientific foundation for a decisive attack on Covid-19.

Here is a comparative analysis of the healthcare status in different countries. The table is based on information from the Knoema website (https://knoema.ru/atlas/). The data is for 2015 – 2018 

Country Spending on healthcare
 % to GDP
Spending on healthcare per capita ($) Number of doctors per  1000 residents Number of beds per 1000 residents
Iran 8.1 415 1,1 1,5
Russia 5.3 469 4,0 8,2
Germany   8,2 4714 4,2 8,3
Israel 7,3 2837 3,2 3,1
USA 17,1 9870 2,6 2,9

Having evaluated the situation and the scope of the epidemic with concern, the Iranian authorities stepped up effort to mobilize the population to combat the coronavirus.

On March 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei called on citizens to step up the fight against coronavirus across the country. He also urged Iranians to “follow directives and guidelines issued by health officials.”

Emphasizing that the population should heed the recommendations of health officials regarding coronavirus control and its non-proliferation, Ayatollah Khamenei added: “These recommendations should not be ignored, because God obliged us to answer for our health and the health of others. Therefore, all steps that contribute to improving the health of society and lead to non-proliferation of this disease is the right act, whereas what contributes to its spread is the wrong act. ”

A little later, the Supreme Leader described what was happening in the country as a disaster adding that though the IRI knew much more serious troubles, it no case should play down the danger.

In turn, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on March 4 that the authorities will try to overcome the coronavirus crisis in the shortest possible time and with minimal losses. He acknowledged that the Covid-19 affected almost all the provinces of Iran.

In accordance with instruction by the authorities, the National Headquarters for the Control of Coronavirus and Disease Prevention was set up, headed by the Minister of Health.

Involved in the anti-virus effort is the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Army’s ground forces. Rear Admiral Ali Fadawi, deputy commander of the IRGC, said that the Corps has established a permanent center, Shafa, to combat the coronavirus infection. The IRGC base is working in cooperation with the “National Headquarters for Control of Coronavirus and Disease Prevention.”

Corps spokesman General Ramezan Sharif said the IRGC had mobilized 100,000 of its members, as well as the Basij Resistance Force (IRGC), to help the government and people to stop the epidemic.

“The extensive IRGC system, including personnel and special-purpose facilities, as well as stationary and field hospitals, care camps, medical centers, and basic necessities and sanitary equipment, which belong to the IRGC and Basij, are available for the specific conditions of the country in the fight against coronavirus” “General Sharif said.

General Behzad Moamen, who is in charge of the Iranian Army’s medical department, said all 28 military field hospitals are ready to assist the Iranian Ministry of Health in treating patients diagnosed with Covid-19.

Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, said on March 13 that the Committee on Security and Law Enforcement, in tandem with the Ministry of the Interior and the governors, would begin to take measures to clear shops, streets and avenues from visitors and passers-by in order to preclude crowding. He added that over the next 10 days, the condition of all Iranian citizens will be checked via the Internet, by telephone and, if necessary, in person.

Iran’s Health Minister Said Namaki announced in early March that a new national mobilization plan will be in effect across the country to combat the coronavirus epidemic and better treat patients. The plan envisages special training for all 17,000 medical centers and 9,000 medical and clinical centers in all cities, suburban areas and villages. The number of medical laboratories for testing coronavirus infection has already reached 22, and will increase to 40 in the near future. Also, the plan provides for the widespread introduction of home quarantine.

The government has imposed restrictions on travel within the country, especially to the north of Iran, which is part of the red zone. The country has also adopted stringent digital medical control procedures at airports and transport terminals to detect possible infections. Air traffic with epidemic epicenters inside the country and abroad has been suspended.

The authorities have launched decisive action. Disinfection  vehicles have appeared in the streets of Tehran, spraying disinfectants, public transport is   disinfected on a regular basis.

All schools, universities, theaters, cinemas, and Shiite shrines are closed. Mass events, including Friday prayers, have been canceled. Where possible, quarantine is in effect. All resorts are under quarantine. Institutions have switched to on-line work. Internet traffic is up 40% as Iranians work from home. Shopping centers stand  nearly empty.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, Khojatoleslam Ebragim Raisi, said that about 70,000 prisoners across the country have gone on leave after the outbreak of coronavirus.

There are special matchsticks next to ATMs and elevator doors, offering Iranians the option to press buttons without touching the metal surfaces which are potentially infected with coronavirus. In public, some men no longer shake hands and do not kiss in greeting – instead, they touch each other with their boots.

The second round of parliamentary elections in Iran, scheduled for April 17, has been postponed on account of the epidemic. The celebration of Nourouz – the Iranian New Year, which begins on March 21, is under question. In Iran, the New Year holiday lasts until the beginning of April.

Slowly, the Iranians are coming to terms with the situation. There is no shortage of essential goods, daily use products and food.

However, the emergency measures caused by the epidemic have had a negative effect on the economy and, accordingly, on the social sphere. In the first two weeks of the coronavirus crisis, the Tehran Stock Exchange collapsed by 3.44%, while the national currency, which had already suffered significantly at the sanctions, fell by 19%.

According to the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, daily losses from the closure of enterprises and large commercial facilities throughout the country amount to $ 164 million. In addition, there have been cases of bankruptcy of small shops, cafes, hairdressers, car service stations, and taxi drivers.

Undoubtedly, the forced closure of land and air borders with neighbors and partners has struck an extra blow on the Iranian economy, tightening the blockade that the United States imposed in 2018.

Iran has found itself in plight. The American sanctions, a dramatic decrease in oil prices on the world market, the detrimental effect of the coronavirus epidemic  on the physical and psychological health of people, and also on the economy, amid the difficult political situation in the country, may herald grave socio-political upheavals.

From our partner International Affairs

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The Russian bear in Lebanon

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It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.

It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.

The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.

Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.    

Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high. 

Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.

In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.

The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.

It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.

Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.

The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.

If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.

Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.

Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions. 
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change. 

Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.

From our partner Tehran Times

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A New Era in US-Jordan Relations

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President Joe Biden meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

King Abdullah of Jordan is the first Arab leader who met American President Joe Biden at the White House. The visit has reaffirmed the strong and long-standing Jordan-US strategic partnership and reinvigorated the bilateral engagement for working together on security issues, and economic development on the basis of shared values and priorities. The King’s visit to Washington reaffirmed Jordan’s value as a reliable ally who plays a critical role for stability in a highly volatile region.

Jordan’s value is multi-dimensional and ranges from bilateral military cooperation, intelligence sharing and joint global counterterrorism operations including as a member of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS and the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve to deployment of almost three thousand (3,000) American troops to Jordan as part of the ongoing campaign to combat regional terrorism. The US has expanded military footprint to Jordan after Washington’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria and reduce military presence in the Turkish airbase of Incirlik. In addition, the kingdom’s geopolitical position in the heart of the Middle East provides a viable alternative for logistical support to the American military taking into consideration the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and close three bases in Qatar. Notably, the remaining supplies from the three Qatari bases along with the Support Mission have been transferred to Jordan and have become part of the Area Support Group-Jordan that operates as the Base Operations Support Integrator to back contingency operations and military-to-military engagements within the US Army Central Command’s area of responsibility.

Jordan’s value also stems from its critical role in addressing the overwhelming humanitarian needs created by the conflicts in Syria and Iraq as well as in hosting almost two million registered Palestinian refugees.

Support of Two-state Solution

The fact that Jordan remains at peace with Israel and is a key interlocutor with the Palestinians adds to the kingdom’s reliability to mediate and advance initiatives that support the two-state solution. This presupposes the resetting of Jordan-Israel relations. Washington is well-placed to offer its good offices and help restore trust between the two neighboring countries. The twenty-seventh year Jordan-Israel peace treaty shows not only the possibilities for coordination and co-existence but also the ceilings to peace with Israel in the absence of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A “cold peace” and quiet, limited cooperation are currently the maximum possibilities vis-a-vis a “warm peace” that will unlock Jordan-Israel cooperation and potential.

It is nevertheless noteworthy that the last five years have been discerned by the previous American administration’s lack of appreciation of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Trump peace proposal, known as “the Vision”, not only undermined the long-established aim of a two-state solution but also reinforced discussions over alternatives including a one state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; different measures of annexation, such as Israeli annexation of Area C in the West Bank; “exotic options” such as a federation in which Israel and Palestine share certain aspects of sovereignty; potential unilateral Israeli initiatives with most prevailing a Jordanian model, in which Jordan takes control of the West Bank and Palestinians are given Jordanian citizenship; and, reinforcement of the notion that “Jordan is “Palestine””.

Practically, Jordan can serve as honest broker in any future Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but as the late King Hussein stated in an interview with The New York Times in 1991 “Jordan should not be, cannot be, will not be a substitute for the Palestinians themselves as the major aggrieved party on the Arab side in a process that leads to peace”. The cited statement is fully embraced by Jordan’s current leadership.

Acknowledgment of Jordan’s Custodianship

The public acknowledgement by the American President of the kingdom’s special role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem is translated into a vote of confidence and a commendation for Jordan’s efficient safeguarding of religious sites for decades.  As known, Amman pays the salaries of more than one thousand (1,000) employees of the Jerusalem Waqf Department and its custodianship role is carried out on behalf of all Islamic nations. The kingdom holds the exclusive authority of the Jordanian-appointed council, the Waqf, over the Temple Mount/ Haram Al Sharif and has spent over 1 billion dollars since 1924 for the administration and renovation of Al Aqsa mosque.

Jordan has admittedly served at multiple occasions as credible intermediary for Israel and the Palestinians to suspend tensions in the old city of Jerusalem, particularly at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif and pursues a successful administration of religious funded schools favoring moderate religious education and religious tourism. Jordanian moderation has guaranteed co-existence of the three monotheistic religions in Jerusalem at a time when on the contrary, counties like Turkey funnel millions of dollars in charity projects in Jerusalem promoting the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Overall, Jordan’s custodianship has proved to be successful in maintaining delicate arrangements for the benefit of all religions and parties involved.

American Loan Guarantees

The King’s discussions with the American President also centered on the economic challenges exacerbated by the effect of the pandemic and the enhancement of bilateral economic cooperation. Admittedly, Jordan showed strong leadership and governance with early actions that reduced the coronavirus pandemic pressure on the kingdom’s health system. The Jordanian government imposed a nationwide lockdown and severe social distancing measures at a much earlier stage of the pandemic than other Middle East countries.

Jordan withstood the pandemic’s impact with minimal loss of life but with a significant cost to its economy. As of June 2020, most restrictions on economic activity were lifted turning Jordan into one of the first Arab countries to reopen. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has contracted in 2020 by 3.5 percent after growing 2 percent in 2019 due to losses in state revenues because of fewer remittances and a weakened tourism market.

To cope with the direct negative effects of the pandemic on its state budget, the Kingdom received $396 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of finance has specifically helped address the country’s balance of payments needs and allowed for higher spending on healthcare, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the pandemic. Despite that the IMF provided in March 2020 another multi-year $1.3 billion loan package to Jordan, the pandemic has caused a $1.5 billion shortfall in its balance of payments.

This complex economic reality along with Jordan’s moderation in the Arab world justify continued robust annual American economic assistance to the kingdom in the form of budgetary support (cash transfer), USAID programs in Jordan, and loan guarantees. US cash assistance should increase in the coming years taking into consideration that it is directed to refugee support and to segments of the economy that are mostly affected by the pandemic like foreign debt payments and fuel import costs. Overall, a pledge should be made for Jordan in American congress for the authorization of moreUS sovereign loan guarantees that will help the kingdom weather the pandemic’s adverse medium-to-long-term effects on its economy. US sovereign loan guarantees will allow Jordan to issue debt securities that are fully guaranteed by the American government in capital markets, effectively subsidizing the cost for the Jordanian government to access financing.

It is also noticeable that in a genuine effort to help the kingdom contain the pandemic and safeguard public health, the American administration proceeded with the delivery of over 500 thousand covid-19 vaccines to Jordan highlighting American commitment to international vaccination programs including that of the kingdom.

US-Jordan Defense Partnership

The strategic US-Jordan defense relationship was reflected in the discussions that were conducted between the Jordanian King and the American President. American support for the modernization of Jordan’s F-16 fighter jets has been at the forefront of the agenda with the aim of achieving greater interoperability and effectiveness for the Jordanian Armed Forces.  The American President recognized Jordan’s contribution to the successful international campaign to defeat ISIS and honored as an example of heroism the memory of captain Muath al-Kasasbeh who was executed in 2015 by the terrorist organization’s militants.  

Jordan has suffered avowedly from terrorism throughout the years and works collectively at regional and international levels to eliminate all its forms. The kingdom lost two prime ministers, Haza’a Al-Majali and Wasfi Al-Tal, as victims of terrorism and experienced a series of terrorist attacks like the simultaneous suicide bombings against three hotels in Amman in November 2005 that led to the loss of life of American, Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian nationals.

In effect, Jordan is the third-largest recipient of annual American foreign aid globally, after Afghanistan and Israel. A Memorandum of Understanding on American foreign assistance to Jordan commits the United States to providing $1.275 billion per year over a five-year period for a total of $6.375 billion (FY2018-FY2022). Renegotiations on the next such agreement for FY2023-FY2027 is estimated that will aim at increasing the American commitment to Jordan, a key ally in the fight against international terrorism whose military should be in position to procure and maintain conventional weapons systems.

On the whole, Jordan is a steadfast security partner of the United States in the Middle East whose moderation and pragmatism helped the kingdom weather regional and world challenges. As 2021 and past years have showed, Jordan’s position as a bridge between the Levant and the Persian Gulf provides it a unique geopolitical standing, in a way that nowadays Amman is granted with a significant security, diplomatic and humanitarian role that signals a new era in US-Jordan relations.

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Chinese FM Wraps Up his Visit to Egypt

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Wang Yi, the Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister, visited Egypt on July 18, 2021, in El Alamein City, northwest Egypt. The Chinese Foreign Minister is the first foreign official to visit this strategic city.

Wang Yi met with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, during his visit to Egypt, and they discussed bilateral relations between the two countries. This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. Egypt is the first Arab country to establish diplomatic relations with China and the first African country to do so. In the Arab world, the Islamic world, Africa, and developing countries, Egypt has long been one of China’s most important strategic partners. At the international level, the two countries mutually support one another. The meeting between Egypt’s Foreign Minister and China’s Foreign Minister focused on three main issues: the Covid-19 vaccine, the One Belt One Road Initiative, and international and regional issues such as Palestine and Syria

Covid-19 Vaccine

Both Egypt and China have a long history of cooperation and friendship. Before the outbreak of the Covid-19, the two countries’ relations were based on economic and trade cooperation, with China being Egypt’s first trading partner for the eighth year in a row since 2013, and the volume of trade exchange between the two countries exceeding $14.5 billion in 2020. However, as the outbreak Covid-19, cooperation between the two countries expanded to include medical cooperation. Egypt and China worked together to combat the virus. Egypt sent medical supplies to China, and China sent medical supplies and Chinese vaccine to Egypt. In addition, in December 2020, the two sides signed a cooperation agreement on COVID-19 Vaccine Production and China dispatched technical teams to Egypt to assist in the vaccine’s local manufacture. As a result, Egypt is considered Africa’s first vaccine manufacturer.

One Belt One Road Initiative  

Egypt is an important strategic partner in building the Belt and Road Initiative. According to CGTN, the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah al- Sisi, stated that:” Egypt supports the Belt and Road Initiative(BRI).” He added that Egypt is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in the fields of economy, trade, industry, science and technology, and expand human exchanges within the framework of the “Belt and Road Initiative.” One Belt and One Road Initiative is one of the most important initiatives of the twenty-first century, announced by President Xi Jinping during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. Egypt was one of the first countries to participate in this initiative. In 2014, Egyptian President al-Sisi expressed in an interview that China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative was an “opportunity” for cooperation between China and Egypt. Egypt was willing to participate in it actively.

International and Regional Issues

Regarding the international and regional issues, the two sides exchanged views and coordinated positions on some issues as Palestine, Syria issues. It’s worth mentioning that Wang Yi paid a visit to Syria the day before his trip to Egypt, marking him the first Chinese official to visit Syria since the country’s civil war began. China supports the Syrian sovereignty and rejects foreign interference in Syria, and also rejects the regime change. The Egyptian Minister Sameh Shoukry also discussed with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi the GERD issue. According to Sky News, Shoukry explained Egypt and Sudan’s positions as two downstream countries, the importance of preserving the interests of all parties and not jeopardizing the downstream countries’ water security, and the importance of engaging in intensified negotiations under the auspices of the African Union presidency. The two sides signed an agreement on the Egyptian-Sino Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee at the end of their meeting.

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