Two interrelated factors – the Jordanian government’s decision to lift gas and
other fuel subsidies and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood – precipitated last
week’s unrest in the Hashemite Kingdom, an expert said on Sunday.
protests raised fears about the stability of Israel’s neighbor at a particularly
volatile time for the region.
According to Prof. Hillel Frisch from
Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center, traditionally, Jordan’s monarchy has “bought
the population,” appeasing them with heavy food and fuel subsidies.
the Jordanian government announced its decision to lift the generous fuel
subsidies last week, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said the country urgently
needed to offset $5 billion in state losses.
The Muslim Brotherhood, a
growing force in Jordan, has taken advantage of the protests, on Friday joining
rioters in Amman who demanded the downfall of King Abdullah.
The rise of
the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Jordanian political wing the Islamic Action
Front, has impacted the increasingly volatile situation in Jordan, said
The main opposition force to King Abdullah and the Jordanian
government, the Brotherhood has also garnered considerable support from Jordan’s
2 million strong Palestinian population, the professor said.
Brotherhood is now the main Palestinian party even though its leader is from an
East Jordanian background,” he noted.
Last week’s demonstrations also
spread to the largest of Jordan’s 13 Palestinian refugee camps, Baqa’a, just
outside Amman, where hundreds of young Palestinians burned tires and threw
stones at police, according to reports.
Like protesters in Amman, the
Baqa’a demonstrators shouted slogans against the high fuel costs, but also
condemned Israel’s strikes on Gaza, according to Jordan’s Arabic daily
In an interview with Lebanon’s As-Safir newspaper at the
weekend, the deputy controller general of Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood, Zaki Bani
Arshid, said that the Islamist group is “determined to stay on the streets and
participate in all popular movements until the government reneges on its
decision [to cut fuel subsidies].”
The strength of the Muslim Brotherhood
is such that, during last week’s protests, the government approached Islamist
leaders asking for its help in calming the streets.
Brotherhood insisted that government first accede to several of its demands,
including limiting the king’s constitutional powers, reversing the fuel
subsidies decision and canceling the upcoming January 23 parliamentary elections
and holding new ones under a new law, according to The Jordan Times.
Thursday, referring to the Brotherhood’s threats to boycott the elections,
Ensour said the protests only sought to “make the upcoming parliamentary
elections a failure,” the Jordan Times reported.
In statements on
Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood denied their overall goal is to overthrow the
regime, saying that they demanded only reform.
The dire economic
situation is partly due to cuts in Egyptian gas supplies, which have spiked due
to Islamists in the Sinai Peninsula repeatedly blowing up the pipeline that
transports gas from Egypt to Israel and Jordan. The cuts cost Amman an extra $7
million a day.
According to Frisch, however, another a factor that has
exacerbated Jordan’s economic situation has been the loss of financial support
from oilrich Gulf states.
“The problem would have been more resolvable
had the Gulf States been more forthcoming with aid,” Frisch said, referring to
Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to hand over cash this year to help keep Jordan
After the Arab Spring saw regimes in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia
fall, oil-rich Gulf states have sought out allies in the region, and have
focused on monarchies like Jordan.
Last year, Saudi Arabia gave Jordan a
last-minute $1.4b. cash handout to keep Jordan financially stable but
withheld aid this year, officials have said.
According to Frisch, the
souring of relations between Jordan and its patron Saudi Arabia is a result of
Amman’s reluctance to support the insurgency in Syria.
Abdullah has resisted pressure from Saudi Arabia to use the kingdom as a
“weapons depot” for rebel forces, because of fears of a backlash from Syria but
also from the growing number of jihadist elements within the kingdom
Already, some 3,800 Syrian rebels have entered Jordan since
fighting began, according to The Economist, raising fears that they could
provoke bloody retaliations from Bashar Assad’s forces as well as recruit
Jordanian Salafist- Jihadists to their cause.
Amman’s concerns over the
rise of Syria-linked extremists were raised last month, when a Jordanian soldier
was killed in clashes with eight gunmen illegally attempting to cross the border
with Syria. The soldier’s death came just hours after authorities in the
Hashemite kingdom revealed they had foiled a major terror plot by a
Salafist-Jihadist group linked to al-Qaida.
Frisch said that while it was
hard to predict whether the current unrest in Jordan would ultimately lead to a
real crisis for the Hashemite regime, the protests are the most serious
situation the Jordanian monarchy has faced since Black September, the month in
1970 when Hashemite King Hussein moved to quash Palestinian
One solution is likely to be more money from Gulf
In September, Qatar signed a deal with Jordan to supply $1.25b.
over five years to back economic reforms, according to the state run Petra news
If the situation were to worsen, it is likely that Saudi Arabia
would move to pump more money into Jordan to help stave off the crisis, Frisch
“Saudi Arabia cannot afford to lose the Hashemite kingdom,” he