Jordan — January 2007

Sociopolitical Situation

With the Israeli aggression in Lebanon, three fires—in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon—surround Jordan with a possible extension of war to Syria. We may be facing the sixth major Arab-Israeli war in six decades.

The Middle East is internationally perceived as an unstable and dangerous region. Any troubles in one country reflect on the whole region. Therefore, tourism is the first sector to suffer, as foreign groups cancel their planned visits to Jordan, even though it continues to be a safe place.

However, in the short term, the tourism sector is posed to benefit from the influx of tens of thousands of Gulf people and others who fled Lebanon and came to Jordan, exceeding the capacity of hotels and restaurants and filling the seats on airlines to all destinations.

Trade will also be affected negatively, as transportation becomes either too risky or impossible. Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq are Jordan’s main trade partners for both imports and exports. The disruption of trade with those important neighbors will harm the agricultural, industrial and transport sectors.

The rising price of oil in the world markets has confronted Jordan with serious problems. The government has dealt with this by gradually hiking the domestic prices of fuel derivatives so that the fuel subsidy will be reduced and finally disappear. Later, the government will come up with a formula to link local prices of fuel to international market prices.

Economists believe that the central government budget cannot afford to devote more funds to alleviate poverty and unemployment in the future. Huge expenditures to date have only been sufficient to maintain them at the same level; otherwise the poverty pockets would have spread and unemployment could have risen to more than 25 percent of the labor force.

Iraqi professionals – such as doctors, university professors, and businesspersons – obtain Jordanian residency permits quite easily. Jordan’s Ministry of Interior estimates that there are nearly 300,000 Iraqis in Jordan holding such permits.

Since the Amman bombings, Jordan has more regularly deported Iraqis who overstay their visas and more often denied them entry to the country. There are now some 600,000 illegal Iraqis living in Jordan, mostly found in the densely populated cities of Amman, Zerqa, and Irbid.

Those who work illegally are prone to accept unfair or marginal employment conditions. They are often over-qualified for these menial jobs, but earn less than Jordanians for the same work. Iraqi children are not able to attend public schools, and Iraqis without resident permits are not allowed to attend private schools either.

It is unlikely that UNRWA’s Jordan offices will receive extra fund in 2007 due to the agency’s tight financial position. The Prime Minister, who renewed calls for raising Jordan’s share, cited the fact that 1,840,844 refugees (41.9% of the population served by UNRWA) are registered in Jordan, 326,437 of them live in the country’s 10 camps.

Religious Situation

During the visit to Jordan of Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, the cornerstone was laid for a new Syrian Orthodox Church, which will include a huge center that will serve Christians of all denominations.

The Patriarch commended the King’s continued efforts to bring about peace and stability in the Middle East, voicing appreciation for the role of the Hashemites in protecting the holy sites.

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