July 25, 2021

in Jordan, “all the ingredients are there for a social explosion”

Mohamad Halaiqah heads the Economic and Social Council, an advisory body responsible for advising the government and encouraging exchanges between the private and public sectors. He was Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs in the early 2000s, during King Abdullah II’s first years in power.

The social slump has worsened in Jordan with the crisis due to Covid-19. What are the main degradations that you observe?

The pressure experienced by Jordanians is unprecedented. We were hit hard because our economic situation was already not bright before the pandemic. Under its effect, 140,000 jobs have been lost. Unemployment and poverty are increasing. The service sector, a pillar of the economy, is heavily impacted. The budget deficit is high. In the past, governments would raise taxes to increase incomes, but we have reached the limits: Jordanians pay a lot of taxes. Our debt has increased dramatically, equivalent to nearly 110% of GDP. The interest paid for these loans is in the order of 1.5 billion Jordanian dinars. [1,7 milliard d’euros] per year. Jordan’s geostrategic position doesn’t help either: we are surrounded by unrest or bad friends.

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In 2019, there was the ambition in Jordan to relaunch regional trade relations, especially with Syria. Why has this not happened?

Trade with Iraq [principal débouché économique du royaume jusqu’en 2014] did not take off again. That with Syria remains minimal, also preventing us from making land transit to Lebanon, Turkey and Europe. This is essentially the result of American pressure and the Caesar law [qui sanctionne toute transaction avec le régime syrien]. On the other hand, Syrian policy towards Jordan remains tense.

With the Gulf countries, we can no longer count on their financial assistance, as in the past. The only major support that continues comes from the United States. And, on our western flank, there are no relations between Jordanian and Israeli societies. Jordanians do not believe that Israel [avec qui la Jordanie a signé un traité de paix en 1994] wants peace. The only notable contacts are between security circles and the military.

What are the social consequences of economic degradation?

The middle class has always been the backbone of Jordanian economy and society – Amman’s lavish villas represent only a very small percentage of that society. However, its size is decreasing: part of it slips into poverty, with as many negative consequences for society, the economy, state revenues … Similarly, the poor are sinking into misery: in some governorates, the situation is really bad.

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