Jordan Panorama 2021: Political and Economic Shocks
Translated by Sayed Farah
The Kingdom of Jordan entered the bicentenary of the state on the impact of political and economic shocks that drew the shape of the year 2021, which bore “existential” challenges. Most notably was the so-called “sedition issue” and its hero Prince Hamzah, the half-brother of the Jordanian monarch, in addition to an economic challenge that jumps from year to year.
In this report, reviewed the most prominent events and stations that passed through Jordan in 2021, according to their magnitude and impact on public opinion:
In April, Jordanians held their breath amid rumors of a planned "coup" or, as the authorities later called it, a "sedition" starring Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein and Jordanian officials.
The story began when the Jordanian army announced that it had asked the former crown prince, Prince Hamzah bin Al Hussein, to stop “motions and activities that target Jordan’s security and stability.” In contrast, the latter confirmed that he was subject to house arrest in a whirlwind that included the arrest of officials, including the former head of the Royal Court Basem Awadallah and Royal family member Hassan bin Zaid.
Prince Hamzah appeared in video recordings and criticized the country's mismanagement after the deaths of citizens in Salt Hospital due to the lack of oxygen in March.
The prince’s statements were preceded by the divergence of hundreds of Jordanians in different regions of the Kingdom in protest against the mismanagement of the Corona file by the government after the death of 7 people due to the lack of oxygen in the Salt Hospital. An event that pressed the Minister of Health, Nazir Obeidat, to submit his resignation from the government.
After Obeidat submitted his resignation, King Abdullah II arrived at Al-Salt Hospital and called on the director of the hospital, Abdul Razzaq Al-Khashman, and the Minister of Health to resign.
On July 12, the Jordanian State Security Court sentenced former royal court chief Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid to 15 years in prison with temporary works.
In the topic known in the media as the "sedition file," the court incriminated both Awadallah and Sharif Hassan for opposing the regime in Jordan and seeking to undermine the legitimacy of King Abdullah bin Al Hussein personally.
Pandora's Box and the Al-Ajarma Topic
And it is not the first shock that hits the royal family in 2021. In October, leaked secret documents disclosing that King Abdullah II spent more than $100 million to buy real estate in the United States and Britain, among dozens of monarchs and leaders who practiced financial business. Secret over the past years and decades.
The website of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) singled out an extensive report to examine the documents related to the Jordanian monarch, out of the 11.9 million documents that ICIJ announced leaked, calling it “Pandora,” describing it as the most momentous exposé of financial secrets around the world.
In response to the "Pandora" documents, the King said: "there is a campaign against Jordan during a visit to the Central Badia region."
The King pre-empted the incident a few days, pardoning all those convicted in cases related to impudent/offensive speech about him.
And the royal court tweeted on Twitter: "His Majesty King Abdullah II directs the government to study all cases related to "prolonging the tongue," contrary to the provisions of Article 195 of the Penal Code, in which peremptory rulings were issued, and to follow the procedures for granting a special amnesty to those convicted in those cases."
2021 did not seize its surprises, as the Jordanian House of Representatives voted unanimously to dismiss MP Osama Al-Ajarmeh, after the uproar caused by his statements and the subsequent protests by his tribe members. The deputy went out to threaten the King's life, only to end up in prison.
The MP’s story began to roll like a snowball when he tried to speak in a legislative session of the Parliament in May, criticizing the failure to include the issue of a five-hour power outage in Jordan. However, the Speaker of Parliament prevented him from speaking, angering MP Al-Ajarmeh shouting, “All Disrespect to the House of Representatives.”
And since the events are linked to each other, this is the power outage story: On Friday, May 21, all governorates of Jordan lost electricity. The blackout began in the afternoon, and the National Electricity Company announced that the cause of the power outage resulted from a technical issue on the Egyptian interconnection network or because of a "large bird" that caused a contact (short circuit).
The MP linked the power outage to protestors in an attempt to prevent them from reaching the Jordanian-Palestinian borders. What is the story of the borders? A week earlier, on May 14, hundreds of Jordanian youths successfully reached the last point on the Jordanian border with occupied Palestine after participating in a mass demonstration in the Jordanian Karama area in the Jordan Valley in support of Palestine and Jerusalem after the aggression on Gaza.
Despite all the barriers set by the Jordanian security, the young men managed to reach the border. Two young men crossed the border into the Palestinian interior in response to youth calls through the hashtag "Let's go to the Border," which trended on social sites in Jordan. The Israeli occupation authorities arrested them, then released them later.
Political events...and a Reform Committee
In June, King Abdullah II decided to form a committee to modernize the political system, headed by former Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai, with 92 public figures from different sects as members.
In September, the Royal Committee to Modernize the Political System in Jordan approved drafts of electoral laws, parties, decentralization, and constitutional amendments.
The committee approved constitutional amendments, to which the government also added amendments that expanded the powers of the King. The event prompted the United Jordanian Movement (a coalition of popular opposition movements) to criticize the proposed amendments that expanded the powers of King Abdullah II, considering them a “coup against the concept of the state and a coup against the constitutional and political system of the country.” The constitution stipulates that the rule in Jordan is parliamentary, royal and hereditary.”
A Government Reshuffle
In March, surprisingly, a Jordanian minister resigned from the government, 24 hours after he took the oath before the Jordanian monarch as minister of labor.
The Jordanian Royal Court announced that the King had accepted the resignation of Labor Minister Maan Al-Qattamin, hours after a government reshuffle.
Jordanian Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh amended his government amid faint popular interest in the amendment, which took the form of transfers of ministers between ministerial positions.
In October, Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh made the fourth amendment to his government that included nine positions, the most prominent of which was the creation of a Ministry of Investment in an attempt to ease the obstacles facing investors.
Al-Khasawneh announced in a meeting with the National Assembly that the amendment has an economic nature, as a Ministry of Investment will be created and not the position of Minister of State for Investment Affairs, aiming to unify investment references facilitating procedures for investors.
Normalization at Its Peak
The year 2021 witnessed normalization projects and Emirati-sponsored deals, most notably in November when a general declaration of intent was signed at Expo 2020 Dubai between Jordan, the UAE, and Israel, to negotiate the feasibility of the negotiations a joint energy and water project.
Consequently, thousands of Jordanians marched every Friday since, rejecting the energy project and normalization with the Israeli occupation, in exchange for water for Jordan, with Emirati participation and American sponsorship.
In a special monitoring session in December, Jordanian MPs attacked the government’s signing of the “declaration of intent.” They demanded that the government find alternatives to “water stolen from Palestine.” The MPs included in their statements that the signing of the declaration of intent was under American pressure, criticizing pressuring from other Arab countries towards normalization.
The government justified its approach to Israel by the scarcity of water. In November, Jordan’s dams continued to dry up one dam after another, while many of the fourteen dams entered the stage of danger, spurring water experts to sound the alarm amid a water crisis in the Kingdom, which is one of the poorest countries aqueously.
In October, Jordan bought 50 million cubic meters of water from Tel Aviv in addition to the quantity stipulated in the peace agreement signed between the two countries in 1994.
The purchase of water comes amid improved relations with the Bennett government after crises left by the previous Netanyahu government. That sparked in March a new crisis when the Crown Prince, Prince Hussein, canceled a scheduled visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque, in the final moments of its completion, before the prince and his companions crossed the King Hussein Bridge separating Jordan and Palestine in protest against the security arrangements. In response, Jordan closed its airspace to Netanyahu, canceling his scheduled trip to the UAE.
The month of December witnessed angry reactions to the movie "AMIRA," which was considered offensive to the prisoners' cause. Freed prisoners and activists staged a sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Royal Film Commission in protest against the film. The country's official body authorized to submit films for nominations to the Academy Awards, the Royal Film Commission of Jordan decided to withdraw the movie "AMIRA" from the 2022 Academy Awards.
International Relations.. a New Page with Bashar al-Assad
August witnessed an intense diplomatic movement. The Jordanian capital hosted visits by high-level official delegations from Arab countries, most notably Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Qatar, and Turkey.
In Amman, King Abdullah II received Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, preceded by a royal meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who came to the Kingdom on a Jordanian military plane.
The Jordanian monarch also met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss various files, most notably the Syrian crisis, as announced by the Kremlin.
In Doha, the King of Jordan held talks with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Most notably, in October, the King of Jordan received a phone call from the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, the first of its kind in years.
The official Jordanian news agency, Petra, said that the call "discussed relations between the two brotherly countries and ways to enhance cooperation between them."
In September, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Yousef Ahmed Al-Hunaiti, received his Syrian counterpart, General Ali Ayoub, in Amman.
It was preceded in the same month by the Jordanian authorities' decision to open the land and air borders with neighboring Syria, in the latest step towards resuming relations with the Syrian regime, which was economically damaged alongside Jordan by the Syrian crisis.
June witnessed the launch of the so-called "New Levant" for economic cooperation after a tripartite summit was held in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. A Jordanian-Egyptian-Iraqi summit, with the participation of Jordan's King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kazemi, to complete Discussions of economic, trade, and investment cooperation between the three countries.
In July, King Abdullah II met with US President Joe Biden as the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Biden took office. The visit comes after a difficult ordeal with the Trump administration, which tried to pass the deal of the century.
As for the relationship with Hamas, in August, two Hamas leaders, Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal participated in the burial and funeral ceremonies of the movement's leader, Ibrahim Ghosheh, in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
This was Haniyeh's second visit to Amman. Haniyeh visited Jordan only once, in 1996, as a member of his movement's delegation to internal Palestinian dialogue, before relations between Jordan and the movement deteriorated in 1999.
A Worrying Economic File
Economically, the government has drafted the 2021 budget, the most difficult to date for the Kingdom due to the exceptional circumstances imposed by the repercussions of the Corona pandemic.
The deficit amounted to JOD2.05 billion ($2.89 billion) after grants, compared to JOD 2.1 billion ($2.96 billion) for 2020.
In light of the deteriorating economic situation, the number of Jordanians who fall below the poverty line (absolute and extreme) increases daily. According to specialized centers, that is due to the Corona pandemic and the deteriorating economic conditions left by government financial policies that imposed many taxes in light of the economy’s inability to provide job opportunities.
In November, Jordanian national and movement parties, forces, and activism took part in a protest march after Friday prayers in front of the Husseini Mosque in the center of the capital Amman to demand an end to the activation of the Defense Law and to protest against prices' escalation and the policy of "silencing mouths."
In August, the government began mining for raw materials after it sought copper in the Dana Natural Reserve, which the government says contains millions of tons of copper in its interior.
The government's tendency to excavate the reserve angered environmental defenders, and Jordanian activists launched the hashtag #Save_Dana, which topped Twitter.
Freedoms and Rights
As for the human rights situation, 2021 was not without arrests and restrictions. A human rights report projected by 17 Jordanian civil society organizations in July criticized the reality of human rights in the Kingdom for the year 2020. The organizations called on the Jordanian government to make legislative and constitutional amendments and stop imprisoning journalists and media professionals in publication cases.
The year witnessed arrests over several months. In November, the authorities arrested 16 university students and more than 36 activists, against the backdrop of 17 attempts to carry out a protest stop at the Interior Square, to release them later.
On February 15, the security authorities arrested several Jordanian teachers in the north of the country, in the Irbid governorate, after they staged a demonstration against the measures they described as arbitrary against their syndicate, which had been dissolved in the country.
In March, security forces arrested dozens of activists in different parts of the Kingdom in an attempt to prevent activists from protesting and calling for constitutional reforms after Jordanian activists commemorated the tenth anniversary of the March 24 sit-in (the first open sit-in in Jordan during the Arab Spring 2011).
In October, Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh filed a complaint against the activist Al-Zoubi, who posted on social networks that the president's wife receives thousands of dinars from official institutions but later dropped the lawsuit under the impact of criticism.
In October, a Jordanian court dismissed a lawsuit to dissolve the Council of the Teachers Syndicate in Jordan for lack of legal basis and lack of evidence.
The year 2021 was not without social events and crimes that shocked Jordanian. In September, a 28-year-old woman was burned to death in Jordan by her drug-abusing husband, leaving behind three children.
In the same month, Jordan experienced the 5-year-old girl Lynn Abu Hatab's tragic death due to a medical error. Doctors failed to diagnose her health condition when her family was referred to Al-Bashir Hospital due to pain in her stomach. She was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and later died from a ruptured appendix.
In November, two brothers were killed, and their father injured during a quarrel in Irbid governorate, while the killer was arrested.
Jordanian official statements and reports also showed a marked increase in suicides in a country suffering from a stifling economic crisis and high unemployment rates, poverty, and food insecurity.
In its 17th annual report on the human rights situation in the country last year, the National Center for Human Rights announced an increase in suicides by 140 cases, compared to 116 cases in 2019.
Sports to End It
In November, the Jordan Football Association demanded the Asian Confederation to verify the gender of an Iranian female player. The player participated in the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers final match against Jordan, which Iran won on penalties against Jordan.
And the president of the Jordanian Football Association, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, posted - through his account on Twitter - a request for the Jordanian Federation to verify the eligibility of a player's participation in the Iranian team by a committee of independent medical experts.
In December, Jordan bid farewell to the Arab Cup in Doha. The Egyptian team qualified for the semi-finals after a difficult victory over its Jordanian counterpart, 3-1, in an epic match that lasted for 120 minutes.