Syrian refugees in Jordan ‘top 470,000 mark’


[4/1/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Taylor Luck | The Jordan Times AMMAN/MAFRAQ — Hundreds of Syrians fled to Jordan on Sunday, pushing the total number of refugees in the country to over 470,500. According to the Jordan Armed Forces, over 1,200 Syrians crossed into Jordan late Saturday and early Sunday, pushing the total number of new arrivals over the past 72 hours to 4,500 and the total number of refuges into the country to over 470,500. Some 110 injured Syrians were among Sunday’s influx, security sources said, most of whom were taken to public hospitals in the border cities of Mafraq and Ramtha for treatment. Sunday’s influx came as fighting waged across southern Syria, with Jordanian security sources and Free Syrian Army sources reporting clashes and heavy shelling in the border villages of Naameh, Shajarah and Sheikh Maskeen. Syrian rebel sources say the spike in violence is part of a renewed offensive by Damascus to push back recent rebel gains across the border region, which have included several key army posts and Syria’s main crossing point into Jordan. Meanwhile, Jordanian and international relief officials accelerated efforts to break ground on the country’s third Syrian camp. According to the UN Refugee Agency, local authorities are completing infrastructure work on the desert camp on the outskirts of the eastern city of Azraq, which is set to host over 70,000 refugees. The efforts are aimed at relieving pressure on the country’s main Syrian camp, the Zaatari, which currently hosts some 146,000 Syrians — well beyond its 100,000 maximum capacity. A spike in violence across Syria since the beginning of the year has pushed the influx of Syrian refugees into Jordan to over 70,000 a month, a pace UN officials say requires the opening of a new refugee camp every 30 days.

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Time for reconciliation


[2/25/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Nasouh Majali/ The Jordan Times A new, peaceful uprising is taking place in Al Anbar and other Sunni governorates in the east and centre of Iraq, with citizens demanding equality and a change in the Iraqi government’s hostile policy towards Sunnis. The presumption that democracy can be established under foreign occupation is a fallacy of our time. After the Oslo accords, Israel tried to convince the world that the West Bank Palestinians are freer and enjoy more democracy under occupation than the citizens of other Arab countries. This trend continued in 2003, when the administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq, Paul Bremer, drew a new constitution along sectarian lines, shifting the political power from nationalistic Sunnis to sectarian Shiites, loyal to Iran. The Iraqi Sunnis, who form almost 40 per cent of the population, are treated with suspicion. They are considered opposition, loyal to former president Saddam Hussein’s regime which was toppled in 2003. Special laws were issued to hunt down members of the Baath Party, and officials and military men who served under Saddam Hussein. Hundreds of thousands of Sunnis have been expelled, imprisoned or killed since 2003. Ten years after the occupation, Nouri Al Maliki’s government has shown no change of policy; it still takes revenge on those who served under the previous regime. The present Iraqi government serves Iran’s interests and considers the Iraqi Sunnis political enemies not worthy of trust. The Americans must have realised that the war they waged in Iraq to serve the ambitions of Israel to destroy the military power of the Saddam regime, and to serve Iran’s ambitions to control Iraq and play a role in the affairs of the Arab world came at a steep price. Al Anbar uprising could herald either a new struggle or a new national dialogue and reconciliation in Iraq. It does not benefit the Iraqi regime to treat almost half of the country’s population as outcasts, or suspect the Sunni community of being disloyal to the state. Sunnis are demanding respect and protection by law, as well as fair treatment. They demand real political change: the resignation of Maliki; a new constitution; new, fair elections; and reconciliation of the different sects in Iraq that should enjoy equality. Maliki ignores the uprising and threatens the demonstrators with the worst. Instead of adopting a conciliatory policy that could end all hostilities and divisions among Iraqis, he accuses demonstrators of sectarianism, which is bound to drag Iraq into a serious political conflict. Change in the Arab world does not always mean smooth transition to democracy, dictated by the free will of the people. It could mean exchanging one tyrannical regime with another, just like in Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia. The political situation has become an obstacle to unity, progress and peace in Iraq. It led to more conflicts and internal divisions. It is the responsibility of the Iraqi government, which has the political power, to change the course of events and to avoid the rift in Iraq. Maliki has the authority to do so, but it seems he lacks the will to make the needed change for reconciliation. The writer is former minister of information and media expert. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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Debt service kills economic growth


[2/25/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Fahed Fanek / The Jordan Times One has the right to wonder why the annual rate of economic growth in Jordan dropped to the low level of 2.5 per cent in 2012, and why no one expects this rate to exceed 3.5 per cent in this year, despite the fact that the economy used to achieve much higher growth rates in the near past. Several factors contributed to this unpleasant result. Some are local, others regional and international, but I shall delve today on only one factor, namely public debt service. The tables of the general budget for this year indicate that Jordan will have to pay, in foreign exchange, during the year, principal installments and interest amounting to JD613 million to foreign lenders. This forms 2.6 per cent of the estimated gross domestic product of this year. One can conclude that had it not been for the heavy burden of foreign debt service, economic growth rate in Jordan could have reached this year 6.1 per cent instead of the targeted 3.5 per cent. The total debt service of both domestic and foreign debt the Treasury has to pay this year will reach JD1,321.3 million. This figure happens to be almost equal to the deficit of this year’s budget, estimated at JD1,310 million. In other words, had it not been for debt service, this year’s budget would have shown a surplus of JD11.3 million. Public debt service is not forming a burden on the budget only; it contributes to excessive pressure on the balance of payments, causing a big deficit in the current account, which is reflected in a melt-down of the Kingdom’s reserves of foreign exchange. Public debt and budget deficit feed on each other. Budget deficit caused mainly by debt service has to be financed by new loans that are added to the debt, increasing the future debt service in the form of installments and interest, which in turn increases the budget deficit to be covered by more debt, and so on. The country is confronting a vicious circle that causes deficits in all financial and economic scales. It is therefore unfortunate to find supporters of more deficit, and consequently more debt, who call for subsidising fuel, electricity, water, fodder, bread, etc., knowing that such subsidies cause a deficit in the budget to be financed by more debt. Accepting a state of heavy indebtedness means that we want to live at levels higher than our means by borrowing the extra resources, creating debt that must be repaid by future generations, whose standard of living will be lower than the resources of the country would have allowed. Debt is a form of borrowing, not to say theft, from our children and grandchildren.

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Limited progress for our political parties


[1/28/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Nasouh Majali/ The Jordan Times Very limited progress has been achieved by our new political parties and blocs — national, leftist or Islamist — that participated in the January 23 parliamentary polls on national tickets. Some of these parties achieved better in the local districts on the basis of the one-person, one-vote formula, an indication that the Elections Law and the national list were not a great help to partisan life, especially since individual open lists were given the opportunity to compete with political parties. Yet parliamentary blocs can be formed and still have the chance to become the centre of political life in Parliament and the government, but no single party should assume that it can apply its programme or political vision alone. Political work, in parliament or the future parliamentary government, will depend on alliances between different groups that might form the government. As in each election, there are winners and there are losers. Women achieved slight progress in the elections beyond the quota, which is a good indication. Meanwhile, the Islamist Centrist Party unexpectedly achieved good results in the national list and district vote benefiting from the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front. The latter chose the most extreme measure by opting to boycott the polls, thus giving way to the more moderate Islamist Centrist Party. Moderate, centrist Islamist movements are tolerated by the state as well as the Jordanian society, and other moderate Islamist parties are thus expected to emerge in the near future. I do not think that the elections and the new Parliament will immediately make a significant difference in developing political life or the concept of parliamentary governments. Most of the new members represent tribes and at least one-third of the new Lower House members has no previous experience in political life. Thus the Parliament is expected to be led by the old guard, who were blamed for a lot of the shortcomings and mistakes of previous parliaments. Reform, be it political or social, will be a central issue in the coming stage. In his discussion papers, His Majesty King Abdullah gave us a platform of ideas, values, democratic behaviour and demands that might lead the way to a new concept of democratic governance. It is not enough for any political group or party to be elected by democratic means; it is more important to behave in a democratic manner after elections, especially when it participates in the government, by respecting the values and meaning of democracy, in addition to respecting other parties. This is what makes democracy successful. Economic and social challenges as well as the rising dangers in the region and their effects on our country in many ways will be the state’s top priority in the next stage. The solidarity of our people and the security of our country must be the solid base for our national policy, as they are the best guarantee to face challenges, be they domestic or not.

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Predicting Jordan’s economic future


[1/28/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Fahed Fanek/ The Jordan Times As a starting point, economic planners need to have a numerical map depicting the economic indicators expected in the country during the coming few years. The map would help them see the big picture of the economy, with its positive and negative points, and help them deal with and try to influence these indicators, to move in the desired direction, to achieve a set of objectives. The economic adjustment programme agreed upon recently with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came up with indicators covering the next five years 2013-2017. It did not say whether these figures and percentages represent neutral expectations or stated objectives. The assumption is that they are only preliminary figures that could serve as a basis for policies to be adopted and decisions to be taken. It is extremely important for such expectations to be realistic, as much depends on them in the preparation of annual budgets. They should be neither extremely optimistic nor overly pessimistic. Looking at the tables contained in the agreement between the government and the IMF, it can be noted that some expectations are based on the best-case scenario, which makes it very difficult to see it actually fulfilled. The tables indicate, for example, that exports will grow during the coming five years at rather high rates and that imports will grow at a low percentage. This way, the trade deficit can be substantially reduced, but only on paper. Also, the trade deficit hardly rises in absolute figures. It will decrease as a percentage of the gross domestic product, a trend that never happened before. Lower trade deficit is good as a target that may be achieved in full or in part, but it is not good as a prediction, because it may lead the planners and decision makers to believe that the problem is on its way to being solved without intervention. By the same method, the deficit in the current account of the balance of payments is shown to be declining not only as a percentage of GDP but also in absolute figures. Another sign of optimism is that the IMF assumed that the world price of the petroleum will drop each year to reach $87.6 per cent after five years, but what if the petroleum prices rise instead of decreasing? What will happen in such a case to the remaining expectations and balances? It would have been wiser to assume stability or moderate rises in the oil prices. The Jordanian government is unable to predict the economic and fiscal future for one year, as evidenced by its expenditure, which exceeds the budget, and the need to issue supplementary budgets to meet unforeseen developments. The IMF is also unable to provide convincing assumptions on the way the economy may unfold during the coming five years. Therefore, it will revise and amend its projections every six months. However, the University of Jordan announced its intention to produce a full picture of Jordan in 2030 politically, economically and socially. It will be a study project, to be carried out by its Centre for Strategic Studies and finalised in one year at the cost of JD100,000, that will be submitted to the government free of charge.

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The first ‘paper for debate’


[1/17/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Kamel S. Abu Jaber/ The Jordan Times For a long time now, I have felt that there was need for an open, honest and responsible national debate on the future of Jordan’s experience or, if you will, our experiment in building a free and democratic system Only last year, I had the honour and pleasure of meeting, on three occasions, with His Majesty King Abdullah, where I expressed this opinion. At the time, I thought that while a debate devoted, as it was, to the laws pertaining to political parties and elections was a step in the right direction, it was not enough, and that what was even more greatly needed was a debate about the identity of the country, its political texture and, even more importantly, a Jordanian-Palestinian dialogue. In the last couple of weeks, two highly significant and important initiatives were tabled. The first, put forth by King Abdullah, regards the nature of the state and its anticipated democratic future; the second, regarding Jordanian-Palestinian relations, was put forth by Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and I hope it will be the basis for a meaningful Jordanian-Palestinian dialogue. It is a rare, indeed a very rare, precedent when the head of a state takes it upon himself to write a political text addressed specifically to his people, exhorting them to think deeply and responsibly about the nature of the political life of their state. As I read and reread it, I was particularly struck not only by the scope and originality of the treatise, but also by the richness of its content. Heads of state always make statements and voice opinions about the internal and external affairs of their states, but for a head of state to purposely sit down not to make a statement or even to compose a speech, but to write a piece of political thought is not a common occurrence. Following in the footsteps of earlier Jordanian monarchs, the King again addresses his people in the context of “family”, where the patriarch is deeply involved in its affairs and addresses the concerns of those members who harbour some opposition to him. It is “my responsibility”, the Monarch said, to initiate debate and to offer advice and ideas, not only to encourage that debate, but also to direct its content and nature. The King touches on the philosophical underpinnings that he believes democracy should rest upon. This provides much food for thought, and rich material for debate. It is, of course, not by accident, that the King chose this time to communicate his vision. With the Jordanian parliamentary elections around the corner, he is undoubtedly looking beyond them, to the parliament that they will produce. He alludes to the nature of the future relationship between himself, as the head of the executive branch, and the legislature, which will develop within what he identifies as our “royal constitutional regime”, intimating that he accepts certain limits to his authority within the responsible constitutional framework that he hopes will emerge. “Our vision of the nature of the democratic regime which we are building is clear,” the King stated, telling us that he is an active participant in a process that is evolutionary and incremental; that it should be built one brick at a time without resort to violence, based on public debate that provides room for contrary opinion and inclusion. He reminds us that all Jordanians, both male and female, are equal, regardless of origin, race or religion, that proper citizenship cannot be complete without involvement in public life, and that although people may differ on particular policies or issues, they should continue the debate on a “give and take” basis. Underlying the King’s call for debate is his belief in participation and partnership in gains and losses that exclude any violence. Resorting to “the street” is not the answer, for it immediately terminates responsible dialogue. The answer is in the ability to adopt the inevitability of change, whether internal or external. The essence of democracy is compromise among differences, not the triumph of one side over the other. Democracy, the King declares, is the attempt to reach understanding and centrist solutions. This first “paper for debate”, titled “Our journey to forge our path towards democracy”, is a political treatise par excellence and, to my mind, a reminder to our people that our King is an active participant in our society. That his philosophical orientations are an extension of Islamic traditions, particularly in attempting to achieve centrist consensus based on social justice, is obvious. This paper, designed solely to direct only political debate on the occasion of the parliamentary elections, will hopefully be followed by others addressing economic imbalances and other issues in our society, especially corruption. The writer is director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies and former foreign minister of Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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Rising dangers in the Mideast


[1/7/2013 12:00:00 AM]

by Nasouh Majali/ The Jordan Times From time to time, Israeli extremist parties send political balloons to either the Palestinians who aspire to a two-state solution or to threaten Jordan, which supports the Palestinian stand. The option of a West Bank-Jordan confederation has been raised as a substitute to a negotiated peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis that would lead to an independent Palestinian state. This political balloon has been used several times to threaten the Palestinian Authority, as well as Jordan; it led to bitter political arguments both in Jordan and in the West Bank. Since 1967, Israel has adopted a solution that considers the Palestinians in the West Bank as Jordanian citizens living on Israeli lands. The Allon plan suggested giving Jordan administrative rule over the highly populated cities in the West Bank, while keeping the rest of the West Bank as Israeli territories. The same concept was adopted by Menachem Begin when Israel suggested self-rule for the Palestinians in the West Bank. Palestinians were considered Jordanians on Israeli land, the maximum recognition Israel would give to the Palestinians. Since 1950, Israel refused to recognise the unity between Jordan and the West Bank, and waited for the opportunity to reoccupy the West Bank. Israeli plans to reoccupy the West Bank have been ready since 1950, as Israeli documents showed after the 1967 war. At this stage, the Arab political system began to fall under the pressure at the dissatisfied Arab population, after it failed in the military struggle with Israel and to achieve a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, as well as failing to adopt democracy in the Arab political system or to secure a dignified, secure relationship between the Arab states and citizens. The peace treaties achieved with Israel reflected the Israeli domination and the weakness of the Arab states. They did not help bring peace in the region or serve the Palestinian cause. On the contrary, they left the Palestinians to face the danger of occupation alone. From this point on, a turning point in the Arab world was expected. The assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was a significant spark. The Iran-Iraq war introduced political Islam as a major factor in the Middle East politics. It was driven by sectarian motives, encouraged by major powers that supported both sides. The Alawite regime in Syria, which considers itself part of the Shiite sect, supported Iran against Iraq. This was another indication of a wider sectarian struggle in the region. Syria played the role of a bridge, extending the Iranian sectarian influence into Lebanon and the region. Since the Iran-Iraq war, politics in the Arab region began to turn gradually into sectarian struggle. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Gulf states faced sectarian threats. The Arab Spring turned into a spring for the rising political Islam. The Sunni Islam that prevailed in Egypt and in most of the states in North Africa penetrated also in Syria, Jordan and Yemen. Political Islam brought with it the threat of division in the Arab world and the region to a struggle between political Shiite and political Sunni Islam. The peak of this sectarian struggle shows itself in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain. The transformation of the countries in the region from national to religious states enhances sectarian struggle and suits Israel. It divides the Arab and Muslim worlds, and strengthens Israel as a Jewish state, founded according to historic religious claims, a theory that is well accepted in the Western world. The Middle East is heading towards more extremism. The opportunity of peace seems to be lost, blocked by Israeli extremists, as well as by political Islamic groups. The struggle, accordingly, will change into a holy war run by extremist groups who, on both sides, consider the occupied land a holy heritage, not negotiable. Sectarian political struggle in the region will change the nature of the conflict and affect the Palestinian issue. It will lead to more political and religious extremism, unless major powers and the international community assume the responsibility of finding a just solution in the Middle East, to save the region and the world from the rising dangers in the Middle East. The writer is former minister of information and media expert. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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