Middle East

Is the end of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan near?

Gal Treger

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.

Why Mosul matters: security, sectarianism and stability in a post-ISIS Iraq

Katherine Pye

As Iraqi government Special Forces enter the outskirts of Mosul and Kurdish forces advance from a new front in the north, the world witnesses the beginning of the end of the great black banner which once sprawled across the Levant.

Relief, however, will be short lived. The defeat of ISIS is by no means the dawn of a new Iraq. If the current course is pursued, the events of 2016 will continue a cycle of insurgency and jihad which has spanned decades. It may lead the country to the same fate as its Syrian neighbor with global repercussions to match.

However, Mosul presents an unrivalled opportunity to reverse this. Firstly, the battle for Mosul will be the largest deployment of Iraqi forces since 2003, significant in itself as a push by the weak Iraqi state to assert its dominance in a region of Iraq where they had never traditionally exerted much control. If the government is successful it is a promising first step for a stable new Iraqi state.

Secondly, Mosul embodies political and strategic problems in the nation; the Iraqi army are leading forces inside the city whilst their supporters are disparate and disjointed. They form a highly unstable fractious coalition including Kurdish Peshmerga forces, Sunni tribal units and Shia militia. Such a multilateral attack will set an important precedent for how ethno-religious groups are able to work with each other as Iraq begins reconstruction.

Furthermore, unlike previously liberated cities such as Tikrit and Fallujah, the northern city of Mosul is religiously diverse, meaning the way in which anti-ISIS forces handle their victory and treat Mosul’s inhabitants in the immediate aftermath could have crucial implications for ethno-religious politics in Iraq in the future. 

Government responses to divided communities such as Mosul will also have a real impact on geopolitics in the region. Whilst the USA has poured funds into Pershmerga coffers, Turkey has been watching the situation closely. Erdogan’s government have been eager to play a more dominant role since interventions in Jarabulus last September which threatened the Kurds with full-scale retreat.

Iran too has demonstrated strategic interests in the region, with the government funding the launch of a "United Shia Liberation Army", linking sectarian conflict in Iraq to Shia ‘struggles’ in Yemen and Syria. Should sectarian violence break out after Mosul is liberated, there are more than enough key players to intervene. A Syrian-style proxy war is never far away.

Yet despite this, groups fighting ISIS have not yet all met and there is no agreed verdict on what victory would look like in a political rather than military sense. As in 2003, troops move in once again without a clear strategy or any plans beyond the immediate term. Astoundingly, even US strategy in the region is overwhelmingly  ‘short term’, as outlined by Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. Instead, each stakeholder will most likely rush to fill the ISIS vacuum by grabbing as much power as possible. This risks collapsing back into turmoil after fighting finishes, in a settlement where central government authority has never been assertive even in peacetime.

But what is often forgotten is that in the months that follow a defeat of ISIS on the ground, an estimated 30,000 foreign fighters will travel back to their home states. Like Al-Qaida after the US invasion of Afghanistan, these brutalised individuals represent an urgent yet invisible security threat, transforming from a state to a “brand”, maintaining an ability to inspire and recruit all over the world.

ISIS itself was born under conditions dangerously similar to those we see in Iraq today. The founder of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, the Iraqi Sunni insurgency which became ISIS, was Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Zarqawi was a Jordanian fighter living in Afghanistan under the Taliban when the US invasion forced them out. Moving to Iraq, he worked underground to build a new Islamic state, carrying out suicide attacks in Shia areas to heighten underlying sectarian tensions. Aggression against Sunnis from the Iraqi government, allied Shia militias or US-backed Kurds would provide perfect propaganda for insurgents in a fragile post-war Iraq.

What can the Iraqi government and its allies do to break this cycle of insurgency, or avoid sliding into total sectarian warfare in the absence of a common enemy? As a matter of urgency all groups opposed to Daesh must meet before invading Mosul, which the US can help facilitate. Religious communities and tribal leaders in and around Mosul need a platform on which to correspond and cooperate before hostilities are further entrenched. The Iraqi government also needs to set a precedent of much lower tolerance for Shia militia brutality. The recapture of Mosul is a critical time for the state to demonstrate post-ISIS Iraq is inclusive and even handed, robbing any Sunni extremist insurgency of the chaos it needs. Addressing Iraq’s long-term security issues requires strong leadership, cool-headed pragmatic decision making and a long-term outlook. At the moment, all are in dangerously short supply.  

What About the Children?

Nilen Patel

This is Europe’s quiet crisis. The lives of children are depicted as the most precious. They are meant to be lives to be protected and nurtured. They are supposed to be the future of our societies after all.

However, 96,500 unaccompanied children applied for asylum across Europe in 2015. Over 10,000 of these are unaccounted for or missing.

Europol, the EU law enforcement agency, believes many of these children are working as slaves, on construction sites and farm land or as sex workers. How can we let these children, the most vulnerable and valued members of society, be the ones to be let down by our European politics? In a society governed by numbers, the extent of human trafficking has long since passed the stage in Europe where it should demand attention and response.

Perhaps this is just further evidence of Europe’s ineffective strategy to cope with refugees. UNICEF found that children currently have to wait up to 11 months between registration and transfer to a country that has agreed to accept them. In Sweden up to 10 children are reported missing each week and in Slovenia more than 80 per cent of unaccompanied children went missing from reception centres. The situation is a complex and emotional one, but traffickers are taking advantage of the waves of migrants and operating across Europe due to the weakness of Europe’s child protection system.

Even on a national scale, we are far from rising to the challenge. Just last month the House of Commons defeated an amendment to an immigration bill that would have seen the UK accept 3000 child refugees. The Home Office argued that they were doing enough already to help child refugees in Syria and neighbouring countries. David Cameron maintains that we must ensure that refugees don’t have the incentive to travel across Europe. Yet the National Crime Agency identified that the number of children being trafficked in the UK increased by 46% from last year, so this is a problem that is clearly not diminishing or going to disappear.

What the Home Office failed to acknowledge is that a significant number of these refugees were under 14 years of age, and travelling alone without the protection of adult family members or guardians. As a means to pacify protestors to the UK stance, the government has agreed to fast-track child migrants who have family members in the UK as well as take in children registered in Greece, Italy or France before the refugee deal was created with Turkey. Yet is a fast-track modification of a notoriously slow process actually helpful? Furthermore, this is another act of ostracising the children who need help the most - the ones without parents or guardians. Smugglers and traffickers, meanwhile, are presenting these migrants with “solutions”, an escape route to a better life, far exceeding what the asylum jungle currently offers them.

It is this internal conflict of how to respond that is symbolic of the EU attitude towards this ever-growing crisis. Unaccompanied children just aren’t valued enough by a society hypocritically putting children in that vulnerable and important societal position.

The fact is that the conflict driving this migration isn’t disappearing, meaning it has become a question of humanity to acknowledge the situation and respond as best as possible. We need to counter the “offer” of smugglers and traffickers rather than restricting our borders. The situation they are fleeing from will always provide a greater incentive to migrate than any disincentive David Cameron could ever create.

The crisis of child refugees is a quiet one, but it shouldn’t be this way. There is an incongruence of what we as a society place value on and what our policies place value on. By reassessing what we believe is important and then crucially protecting these values, we can hope to better the situation in Europe.

Syrian peace talks suspended

Hubert Cruz

The Syrian peace talks mediated by the United Nations (UN) have been suspended just two days after its commencement. UN special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, who is responsible for channelling negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition forces, admitted that more work has to be done by all sides before the peace talks reconvene on 25 February.


The breakdown of the peace talks was catalysed by the Syrian Army’s most recent military breakthrough, where they breached a three-year siege of two towns in the Aleppo province with the aid of Russian aerial bombardment. The High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that represents opposition forces announced they will not be returning to the negotiating table unless there is a cessation of airstrikes and improvement of ground conditions.


Meanwhile Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated that its airstrikes against terrorists would continue. Nevertheless, the United States argues that only 10% of Russian bombing has targeted Daesh, with the vast majority striking opposition groups instead. Local human rights organisations and opposition forces also report that Russian airstrikes have extended into civilian areas in the past few days, where refugee camps in the west of the country are being targeted.


What is the way forward for the Syrian peace process? What could the international community do to support the millions who are threatened by airstrikes, starvation and military siege in Syria? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. Check out the news articles below to find out more about the issue:


The Guardian – UN suspends Syria peace talks until end of February

Al Jazeera – Syria peace talks plunged into new crisis

The New York Time – Syrian Peace Talks Are Suspended

Iranian Sanctions Lifted

This week marks a new chapter in the world’s relation with Iran after more than a decade’s standoff and confrontation. The sanctions imposed by the United Nations against Iran have been officially lifted after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified Iran’s compliance of the international agreement that ensured it would not develop nuclear weapons. Iran would now be able to access its previously frozen assets, increase its oil exports, and develop formal business and trade relations with foreign countries.

These fresh opportunities have long been awaited by the Iranian people, who had suffered deeply from high levels of inflation and shortage of necessary items, such as medical supplies, under stringent restrictions placed on the Iranian currency. Much hope has also been placed on the Iranian government to revitalise the country’s crippled economy, and attract investments from abroad through restoring international faith in the country.

However, with sabre-rattling both from the US right and the Revolutionary Guard, as well as complicated commitments in the wider Middle East, Iran’s nuclear peace is a delicate one.

Can the sanctions hold, and do they herald a new period in Iran’s relations with the wider world? And will Iran’s longstanding enmity with Saudi Arabia lead to greater conflict in the region? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. The contributors with the best insights will be invited to explore their views further for our journal Sir!