Since twenty-six year old Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and sparked the Arab Spring not much has been stable in the Middle East; Tunisia, Mohamed’s home country, ousted their long time President Zine Ben Ali. In Libya, rebel forces lynched Gaddafi in the streets of Sirte. Syria will soon enter the sixth year of a ferocious civil war. Egypt managed to democratically elect the first ever leader of a country from the fundamental Muslim Brotherhood movement, overthrow him and replace him with an old-school military general. Yemen is on the verge of complete disintegration. Iraq is already there. And even the wealthy, agile kingdoms of the gulf suffered their concussions. There seems to be just one Arab country that was not affected: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. However, there are good reasons to think that Jordan is up next.
With a population of 9.8 million people, Jordan has been home to over 1.5 million refugees of the Syrian Civil War. That is an increase of over 15% in Jordan’s population in just six years. It is analogous to Germany welcoming 12.2 million immigrants by 2021 or the United States offering asylum to some 49.5 million refugees over the same time period.
Most refugees live in dire conditions in camps on the northern border with Syria. According to UN estimates, two-thirds live below the national poverty line and one in six households is in abject poverty, living off less than $40 per person per month, or just over $1.30 a day. With the battlefields of the civil war behind them and the wealthy cities of Amman, Irbid and Zarqa in front, their struggle for jobs, homes and recognition will eventually have political consequences.
The economic situation is a stressor on the political order as well. According to the World Bank, unemployment rates reached 13% in 2015. The annual growth in GDP per capita was zero percent in 2015 and is projected to be lower than one percent in 2016. Total productivity growth slowed for the first time since 2010. Foreign aid, investments, remittances and tourism, the fundamental growth sectors, are in persistent decline. Deflationary pressures persist due to lower oil prices, the weakness of the euro and slow economic growth, while the Central Bank of Jordan tries to stimulate the economy with a loose monetary policy.
The danger of high inflation, the precursory of revolution, is discernible. The scenario of a sudden surge in the prices of basic goods seems highly probable; whether due to a sharp rise in the prices of global commodities, a government tax-reform aiming to secure an IMF loan, geopolitical pressures or drastic changes in exchange rates of the dinar.
The current political structure in Jordan is also facing a perilous ideological threat. The Islamic groups in Jordan are moving towards a more militant, proactive and jihadist Islam, affiliating themselves with fundamental groups in the region, primarily Al-Qaeda.
Additionally, Islamic State propaganda is ubiquitous, not just in mosques but also in universities, sports clubs and youth groups. Youth are futile ground for radicalization, with unemployment for those under the age of 30 – which account to 70% of the population – just over 30%, twice the world average. Furthermore, there are growing indications that Sunni militants, Salafi groups, Syrian opposition and ISIS supporters are smuggling more and more arms into the country.
When a car drives over a bridge and the bridge collapses we tend to focus on the specific car, the driver, the time and place the accident took place. We rarely discuss the structural stability of the bridge. The political system in Jordan is an unstable bridge. We have good reasons to believe that one of the cars driving over will make the entire bridge collapse.