King Abdullah struggles to keep a lid on Jordan وأخيرا الخصيان يعترفون

Tayseer Nazmi

الزعماء العرب : خلي عنك واحنا شو ظللنا شغل غير هالمهمة يا معلمنا الكبير

King Abdullah struggles to keep a lid on Jordan
As Syrian refugees pour in and the ISIS threat looms, the rumbling among Jordanians is growing louder.
By Zvi Bar'el May 23, 2015 | 11:00 AM

Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. Photo by Reuters

The Syrian refugee children staying in Jordan’s Al Azraq refugee camp recently received a delightful surprise – the Ideas Box, a portable multi-media kit for refugee and vulnerable populations.
The kit is intended to relieve boredom and, in that way, help prevent conflict among the camp’s 18,000 refugees. But with the growing number of refugees on its soil and the looming threat of Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), Jordan has more pressing problems than the refugees’ boredom.
The kit consists of a home cinema system, 10 computers, 25 iPads, electronic books and assembly games, providing individuals and communities with the means to read, write, create and communicate. The project was initiated by Libraries Without Borders in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency and the French Embassy in Jordan. The kit was designed by French designer Philippe Starck.
However, Jordan is more concerned about the economic and social repercussions of the large refugee concentration on its territory. Some 680,000 Syrian refugees and some 30,000 Iraqi refugees fleeing ISIS, added to tens of thousands of refugees left over from the second Gulf war make up more than 10 percent of Jordan’s population — and that's without even counting the Palestinian refugees. This constitutes the main threat to the country’s delicate social and economic fabric.
Some 85 percent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live in cities rather than in refugee camps. Although officially not permitted to work, they are taking over several fields and work places formerly held by Jordanians. International Labor Organization figures show that in Jordan’s three large cities, Amman, Irbid and Mafraq, the unemployment rate among Jordanians has risen from 14.5 percent to 22.1 percent. More than 30 percent of the Jordanians who worked in agriculture and construction have been replaced by Syrian refugees, who are willing to work longer hours for less money, with no social benefits.
Refugee children are allowed to go to school, but Jordanian parents complained the classrooms had become too crowded and demanded other solutions that would not be at their children’s expense.
Providing the refugees with social services like medical clinics, garbage collection, running water and electricity is a heavy burden for Jordan, hindering the government's ability to allocate funds for development or improve the wages of workers in the public sector. The $1.25 billion promised by Saudi Arabia to help offset the cost of aiding the refugees is not enough to cover Jordan’s budget deficit, which is estimated, without the assistance, to be some 1.8 billion dinars (about $2.5 billion).
In addition, the threat to Jordan’s security is growing. After occupying Ramadi city in Iraq, ISIS now controls the intersection of Routes 1 and 10 leading from Baghdad to Jordan. ISIS can totally block the trade traffic between Jordan and Iraq.
Jordanian King Abdallah is trying to persuade the international business community that Jordan is still a safe state for investment. But the closed border with Syria and rising marketing costs to the Gulf have dampened foreign investors’ interest in Jordan.
Investments have dwindled from $3.1 billion in 2006 to $1.5 billion a year in the last four years. This means less employment and heightened social tension. In the southern city Ma’an, for example, demonstrations were held against the police and security forces after the police killed a youngster. Security forces, which have taken a harsh line against any sign of disorder, acted with unprecedented brutality in Ma’an, whose residents have protested against the king in the past and where ISIS supporters raised the organization’s flag. Photographs on the Internet showed destroyed houses and injured civilians.
Recognizing the need to take urgent action to restore calm, King Abdullah immediately accepted the interior minister’s resignation and later fired the gendarmerie commander and general security commander. These dramatic measures against officials seen as the king’s associates were required in light of the threat of civil rebellion.
But the rumbling is growing louder, a Jordanian journalist told Haaretz. “If we could write about what people really think and expose the Jordanians’ difficult conditions, we’d have an intifada on our hands. But no one dares to write it,” he said.
A report of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Jordan says at least 90 percent of the journalists are afraid of criticizing the king and his family and of writing about the royal court’s conduct or the army.
“Self-censorship is stronger than the formal censorship,” a journalist said. “Journalists work as censors instead of government officials.”
Meanwhile, the ISIS threat on Jordan is growing. “We’ve seen what happened in Iraq and Syria and we can’t count on the government’s ability to ensure the people’s safety if ISIS decides to turn right,” the Jordanian journalist told Haaretz.
Two years ago Jordan reportedly enabled Israeli drones to fly over its territory to monitor the developments in Syria. Jordan denied the report but Jordanian sources say the military cooperation between Jordan and Israel extends to various response scenarios in case of an ISIS advance.


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