January 30, 2020

Socio-Economic Challenges and the Impact of Regional Dynamics on Jordan

Employment, Social Cohesion, and International Cooperation - Perspectives from the Region and Europe

Jordan’s stability is severely challenged by socio-economic hardship. The country is plagued by high un-employment rates, an alarming debt-to-GDP ratio of around 94 percent, corruption, and dismal social ser-vices. The fight against terrorism has also resulted in further infringement of rights such as freedom of expression. These grievances have led to a series of protests and strikes in the past two years; the latest strike by teachers has had a far-reaching impact on the public.

Jordanian Socio economic challenges
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The country’s strained economic and social situation is further aggravated by conflicts in its neighborhood and regional dynamics. The influx of around 1.2 million Syrian refugees has come with a significant economic, social, and political burden. The civil war in Syria and insecurity in Iraq, as a result of the rise of the so-called Islamic State, have also necessitated the closure of borders and hence existential trade routes for the kingdom. Additional pressure comes from the assertive policies of regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who expect alignment from Jordan vis-à-vis Iran and Qatar. Jordan’s dependence on financial aid from the Gulf further narrows its room for maneuver when it is politically at odds with these powers. And finally, the fact that a two-state solution to the Israel-Pales-tine conflict seems off the table and abandoned by a key ally of the Kingdom, namely the US, is of utmost concern for a country that is home to the largest Palestinian refugee community worldwide.

For Europe, including Germany, Jordan represents a moderate Middle Eastern country whose relative stability needs to be safeguarded as the state’s foundation seems increasingly shaky and the number of countries in the region pursuing balanced policies guided by diplomacy and political solutions rather than military answers to conflicts is decreasing. Besides, the Kingdom is home to a disproportionally high number of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, a burden acknowledged and addressed in terms of aid from the Europeans. To be certain, the driver of aid is also the fear of rising internal tensions and consequently new refugee waves reaching Europe. These multiple challenges are addressed in this collection of papers.

The authors in the workshop series “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Socio-Economic Reforms and the Impact of Regional Dynamics on Jordan,” held in Berlin in September and in Jordan in November 2019. The workshops were conducted as part of DGAP’s project on strengthening think tanks and similar institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Europe.

Among the recommendations are the following: to address the issue of unemployment, the successful and fast-growing Jordanian Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector should explore ways to generate more work opportunities. This should take place in an enhanced environment for entrepreneurship regarding networking, support for innovation and sustainable ideas, and research as well as data collection and availability. When it comes to enhancing female unemployment, more childcare facilities, equal pay, and fighting social norms hostile to women’s employment are deemed core. Additionally, continued funding for employment programs targeting Syrian refugees and the Jordanian host community should be ensured, while the outcome of such programs should be optimized by offering more sustainable qualification and employment opportunities.

In the light of an increasing detachment of Jordanians from their tribal origins, not least due the changing social fabric as a result of the presence of different refugee populations and exiled Arabs, a reform of Jordan’s legal system, which continues to effectively be a hybrid between state law and tribal justice practices, is recommended. Opinion polls on the role of tribal justice should be conducted to underpin and legitimize such legal reform efforts. Legal reform is also advocated in the realm of legislation that infringes on people’s right to freedom of expression, including the Jordanian Penal Code and anti-terrorism laws.
In terms of regional dynamics, the Jordanian government is advised to support the Iraqi government in its ambitions to integrate the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) into the Iraqi security architecture, while reaching out to Iran to discuss Iraq’s security. As Jordan holds a more balanced position towards Iran, and hence should be strengthened in the light of pressure from the Arab Gulf, Jordan should be integrated into the EU’s relations with Kuwait and Oman to augment the impact of aid as well as to boost the Kingdom’s political weight in the region.

Finally, the EU and its member states are urged to uphold the two-state solution, coordinate and strategize with Jordan on the matter, and increase their support for Jordan’s economy and society while attaching political strings to their engagement to induce necessary political reforms. 

The Contributions in Short:

 “Unlocking the Potential of Entrepreneurship in Creating Jobs for Youth in Jordan”: Hadeel Alqatamin addresses the issue of entrepreneurship in the booming Jordanian ICT sector and how the sector falls short of generating employment, despite initial prog-ress. She suggests that one way out would be for entrepreneurs to focus on the sharing economy when designing concepts. In addition, she identifies gaps related to support units for sustainable business ideas, as well as opportunities for networking and solid research on entrepreneurship that need to be addressed.

Unemployment among Jordanian Women”: Amani Al-Serhan discusses the paradox in the Jordanian labor market where Jordan scores very high in terms of female education, yet women’s employment remains lowest in regional comparison. She views the combat of counterproductive social norms, the creation of affordable and sufficient childcare facilities, as well as reforms to equal pay legislation, as fundamental to ensure equality and secure economic gains from active female participation in the labor market.    

The Impact of Syrian Refugees’ Return to Syria on Employment Programs in Jordan”: Reine El Wer draws attention to the risks of defunding employment programs as a result of the return of Syrians to their homeland. She points out that the majority of Syrian refugees still reside in Jordan and that host communities themselves have benefited from these programs. Therefore, she calls for a continuation of these schemes by international donors such as the World Food Program whilst ameliorating their quality to ensure more sustainable employment.

Tribal Conflict Resolution in Jordan – A Pathway to-wards Legal Policy in a Hybrid Setting”: Sarah Jakob highlights the hybrid legal order in Jordan comprised of tribal conflict resolution mechanisms as well state legislation. She argues that the social fabric in Jordan has changed over the past years, decreasing the significance of tribal affiliation for certain groups. At the same time, tribal justice is still practiced and favorized by many Jordanians. Hence, she advocates for opinion polls on citizens’ perceptions in this realm upon which a balanced legal reform can be based, which eventually increases trust in the state.

Freedom of Expression under the Interpretation of Jordanian Law”: Eman Alqaisi laments the vagueness of many Jordanian legal texts, including the Jordanian Penal Code, the Anti-Terrorism Law, and the Press and Publications Law. Their elastic phrasing allows the state to curb freedom of expression, and to crack down on and criminalize journalists and activists. She calls for a national dialogue between relevant governmental entities and other stakeholders such as human rights groups, civil society, and the media to protect and enlarge the space for freedom of expression.

Pro-Iranian Militias at the Kingdom’s Doorstep – Implications for Jordan’s Foreign Policy and Response Options”: Chonlawit Sirikupt explores Jordan’s policy options in the light of insecurity in Iraq emanating from Iranian-linked militias operating outside state control. The option he deems most feasible for Jordan foresees supporting Baghdad’s integration of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) into the state’s security architecture and cultivating dialogue with Teheran on Iraq’s security.

Amman and the GCC-Crisis – A Case for Enhanced EU Cooperation with Kuwait and Oman”: Antonio Occhiuto makes the case for the EU to consider Jordan in its policies towards Kuwait and Oman, the rationale being to ameliorate coordination of aid and support by the three actors to maximize impact on Jordan. At the same time, the Kingdom should be supported and strengthened in the face of political pressure from Saudi Arabia and the UAE for alignment in the case of Iran and Qatar.

Trump’s Peace Plan and Jordan’s Woes”: Suha Ma’ayeh looks at the detrimental effects of US pol-icy vis-à-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Jordan. In her view, the EU must step up its economic and political support to Jordan to uphold the two-state solution as well as to avoid socio-economic crisis and instability in the country. However, she urges European countries to attach political strings to this support so that political reforms are carried out that would strengthen the country’s stability.

About the workshop

The following papers were written by participants of the workshop “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Socio-Economic Reforms and the Impact of Regional Dynamics on Jordan” organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa Program in the fall and winter of 2019 in cooperation with the West Asia-North Africa (WANA) Institute and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Amman. The workshop is part of the program’s project on the promotion of think tank work in the Middle East and North Africa, which aims to strengthen the scientific and technical capacities of civil society actors in the region and the EU who are engaged in research and policy analysis and advice. It is realized with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa e.V.).

The content of the papers does not reflect the opinion of the DGAP. Responsibility for the information and views expressed herein lies entirely with the authors. The editorial closing date was 
The editorial closing date was November 22, 2019.

Bibliographic data

DGAP Report No. 6, January 30, 2020, 48 pp.

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