Government: We are working to extract Jordan's mineral wealth
Translated by Matthew Petti
We maintained monetary stability, the most difficult economic task for a small country
The King let Netanyahu know in clear terms when he visited Amman; the Hashemite custodianship and reassurances
If not for the Hashemite custodianship over holy sites, we would see unlimited chaos
Quadrilateral Arab framework for investment projects
The electrical link with Lebanon through Syria is ready but on hold because of monetary and legal barriers that we have no part in
An electrical link between Jordan and Iraq by next June
Detention is out of necessity, by law, and referred to the judiciary…and they are serious about reform
Minister of Government Communications Faisal Shboul, spokesman for the Jordanian government, revealed that the government is starting a project to extract rare earth mineral as part of the plan to confront difficult economic conditions.
Al-Shboul said that the project included the signing of 12 memoranda to search for copper, gold, oil, and other minerals.
The minister discussed “major strategic projects” between Jordan and Arab countries, including linking Jordan electrically with Iraq by next June, in addition to Jordan’s intention to establish a line for the National Water Carrier, railway projects, a light rail service, and a new city.
On the Palestinian issue, the minister indicated that King Abdullah II clearly informed Netanyahu that “the Hashemite custodianship cannot be played with” during Netanyahu’s visit to Amman, and warned of the consequences of Palestinians losing hope in establishing their state.
Below is the full text of the interview:
What are the government’s plans for advancing the economy in light of local and international economic challenges?
If we want to read the situation of Jordan, we must take into consideration two aspects: the local economic situation, and the regional and international aspect.
So if we want to understand the Jordanian economic situation we must return to the Arab Spring in 2011. If we exclude the six GCC countries, all other Arab countries were affected to varying degrees. Regimes were changed, chaos reigned, and great economic damage occurred.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, which also damaged world economies, especially small economies. We witnessed the currency collapses, and political collapses in some countries. Oil prices went negative. After that, the Russian-Ukrainian war imposed a new rhythm on the world, and supply chains were interrupted.
Furthermore, a country like Jordan imports most of its consumer goods, and always needs hard currency. Nevertheless, during the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to secure four different vaccines, and our warehouses never lacked a single food product, while in large economies, goods disappeared from the shelves. We were able to maintain monetary stability, the most difficult economic task for a small country.
Inflation rates in Jordan are reaching a record high of 4.2%, while in major industrial countries they hit 10%, and neighboring countries lost a large part of the value of their currency with 86% inflation.
What are the government’s measures for improving the economic situation and living standards in Jordan?
We have a quadrilateral framework that includes Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain, and is open to any country whose aim is to invest in stimulating economic activity and to establish joint projects. The only solution for a country like Jordan, with an economy under pressure, is to enlarge the economy through strategic projects — which we are seeking —such as the National Water Carrier for Red Sea desalination, which will provide 300 million cubic meters of water annually.
We also have the Aqaba railway project for the land port in Madouna. We also have a light rail project between Amman and Zarqa, in addition to the new city project.
Also, we started last year with a national project to explore for minerals in Jordan, which is promising. We are talking about rare earth minerals and quantities of copper, gold, and oil. There is ongoing work. We have a new phosphate mine with capacities of up to 75 million metric tons, from which we will not export a ton. It is open to investment in producing fertilizers, given that it is more profitable than exporting raw phosphate. Twelve memoranda have been signed for extracting minerals and earth elements.
However, unemployment is a specter that haunts Jordanians. What are the government’s plans in this field?
We have sought that through the economic vision. The government devised an executive program for its first phase. The public and military sectors in Jordan do not employ more than 15,000 new people per year, while 100,000 enter the labor market per year. The situation is to expand the economy to absorb this number through the major projects we discussed.
We signed a number of plans like the agreement with the Jordanian-Saudi Investment Fund to found a teaching hospital and medical university at a cost of JD 400 million, Similarly, we signed a plan with the Emirates for the port and King Hussein Airport in Aqaba.
Jordanian citizens are suffering from increased taxes and fuel prices…is the government looking to reconsider this?
Jordan’s budget is based on aid that comes at a fixed rate, such as U.S. aid, EU aid, Japanese aid. Along with taxes and state revenues, it covers 87% of spending, while 13% of spending comes from borrowing, which puts pressure on the Treasury.
It is true that the tax burden is high, but the solution will again be improving the economy to improve the lives of citizens.
Today, in light of the global crisis, the current government has not imposed any new tax, but the rise in global oil prices has put pressure on Jordanian citizens. Now, it will take time to reconsider taxes, but the most important thing is to look at the tax burden in general, so that we will lean on direct (income) taxes more than indirect taxes, which will achieve justice. We are at the level of studying that.
We see unprecedented Jordanian-Arab cooperation in economic projects (the New Levant). What is new on that file?
In addition to the quadrilateral framework we have discussed, there is also a trilateral framework (Jordan, Egypt, Iraq) and we lean on it a lot. Our policy, which His Majesty the King has strengthened, is the priority on regional cooperation. Today, Jordan projects 30 percent of its energy from renewables, and we provide the West Bank with part of its electricity needs.
Despite the fact that Jordan is not a petrostate, we set up an electrical link with Lebanon through Syria, and the groundwork is ready, but it is hindered by financial measures on the Lebanese side, and legal obstacles that we have no part in. Next June, we will connected the electrical grid with Iraq.
We lean on the quadrilateral framework. We have historic relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all the GCC countries, and there are good indications that the siblings are studying these projects.
What are the goals and funding sources for the new city project?
The government will spend JD 442 million on founding this city, starting in 2025, at a rate of JD 50 million per year. These sums will be spent on the infrastructure, in addition to the capital, and finally the land. The first stage, which will end in 2023, will be an investment opportunity for the local and foreign private sectors, as there is a planned population of 157,000 during the first stage.
The city will include affordable housing markets for people of varying income levels, next to parks, and the transfer of government ministries and departments, except for the sovereign ones such as the Prime Ministry and Parliament, for example.
The idea of building a city is initially to accommodate population growth, relieving pressure on Amman’s infrastructure as population increases. It will be the first city in Jordan planned in advance.
Moving onto the political side, where is Jordan making reforms?
In Jordan, we approved constitutional amendments, electoral and party laws, and these are levers for political modernization. We are now in the stage of practical implementation. As a government, we are required to create a political environment for the success of this project. The next parliament will have 30% of its members from parties, and for the first time, we will apply an electoral threshold for parties and local lists.
The turnout in the last parliamentary elections was 29%. With the new environment and legislation, we hope that parties will be able to attract people and encourage them to participate, so that we can reach the next stage in forming a House of Representatives that is made of 50% party representatives, then 65%, in accordance with the law. This is a step towards partisan governments.
But this is not the first reform plan. There are plans that were never realized, and political activists have been arrested. How will citizens’ confidence be restored?
There are cases of detention out of necessity, by law, and referred to the judiciary. We have seen those arrested in recent events. Whoever was arrested was arrested for a specific reason in a known place.
As for the seriousness of reform, Jordanian reform plans came out of true political will, but the regional situation often suspended them. Today, we put our reform plans on the table, and we are all required to engage with them. The guarantor is the head of state, His Majesty the King, who sponsored these reforms.
The government blocked TikTok during the recent strikes. Is this a restriction on freedoms, or has Jordan been targeted?
All social media is unrestricted, and we were pioneers in licensing satellite channels. Jordanians are the most efficient in using technology. But regarding TikTok, we were targeted directly by fake accounts at a specific time, and TikTok announced that it had deleted more than 300,000 videos in Jordan.
Now, a legal-technical dialogue is taking place with TikTok through the legal frameworks of the Jordanian state, to resolve basic issues. First is the removal of misleading content that clearly targeted us. There are video clips from outside Jordan that were broadcast as if they were from inside Jordanian cities.
With regard to media freedoms in Jordan, there are reports that two journalists were detained at the airport, without mentioning the reason for the detention — particularly in cases of court orders that had nothing to do with media issues — and it is an error to hold Jordan accountable for that.
On the Palestinian file…does Jordan see a prospect for the return of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in light of the King’s recent visits?
There are fixed Jordanian positions on the Palestinian cause. There is a right-wing government whose minister intrudes on Al-Aqsa, and this is more than a red line to us. It is true that we have peace agreements with Israel, but we judge according to actions and not words.
Today, the Palestinian cause is at the top of the agenda for His Majesty the King, wherever he is. The Jordanian position is clear on the solution, the support of the Palestinian people and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the June 1967 borders — with East Jerusalem as its capital. We have an international near-consensus in support of the Hashemite custodianship over the Christian and Islamic holy sites.
We see measures on the ground that are clearly an obstacle to peace. The Jordanian position is in support of the Palestinian siblings, and the Kingdom is at the forefront of efforts pushing for the return of negotiations, but we are not the only player, as the international environment plays a role. There is a Western bias towards the Ukrainian cause, and there are also changing circumstances in the Arab world.
If not for the Hashemite custodianship over holy sites, we would see unlimited chaos. This custodianship is a century old and enjoys international consensus. This custodianship guarantees the preservation of historic rights, and preserves the Islamic and Christian identity in Jerusalem.
On the Palestinian issue, the minister indicated that King Abdullah II clearly informed Netanyahu during his visit to Amman that “the Hashemite custodianship cannot be bargained on, nor can the respect for the status quo, and those assurances are necessary.” The only solution for peace is the establishment of a Palestinian state on the June 1967 borders with its capital in East Jerusalem, and those are the fixed positions that Jordan cannot back down from. The King also warned of the consequences of Palestinians losing hope in establishing their own state, as this will lead to immense consequences and chaos everywhere.
Finally, how does Jordan view the economic and political relationship with Syria?
The Syrian crisis has been ongoing for 12 years, and we hope that it will end as soon as possible. Our position has been clear since the beginning of this crisis: the territorial integrity of Syria, which is a strategic issue, and support for what the Syrian people decide.
One the other hand, we have borders (370 km), and it costs us tremendous energy to deal with arms smuggling and drug smuggling. As all the factions, including the Free Syrian Army and other actions such as ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, approached our borders, we dealt with those situations firmly to protect our borders.
This crisis had repercussions. We still have 1.3 million Syrian refugees, to whom Jordan provides healthcare, education, and all services despite limited resources, such as water. Today, there are multiple parties in the Syrian crisis, such as the United States, Russia, Iran, Israel, and Turkey. In our opinion, the situation in Syria should stabilize, and the crisis should end, and the people there should decide on their future. The international community has failed us in responding to the Syrian crisis, as its annual contribution is no more than 23% of the amount required to care for the Syrians.