Jordan — January 2009

Sociopolitical Situation

The International Monetary Fund’s recent report assured observers and investors of the kingdom’s long term positive economic outlook despite the ongoing global financial crisis. But it cautioned that certain vulnerabilities would exist in the short term, noting that growth is expected to slip below 5% in 2009.

The turmoil in global financial markets has had limited impact on the kingdom and is expected to remain “manageable,” as the decline in international commodity prices will ease pressures on the kingdom’s trade deficit and budget. Economists noted that inflation, with the current account deficit, remains the primary economic risk. Containing inflation, which exceeded 15.5% in 2008, is Jordan’s most pressing current priority.

Despite these challenges, the king has directed the government to increase the minimum wage, to be confirmed for the 2009 budget. The slight increase of the minimum wage up to $211 per month is inadequate and not enough for covering basic necessities such as food, electricity, rents, transportation, and children’s daily needs. Note, also, that the government itself considers the monthly wage of $706 the poverty line.

Due to rising prices in basic commodities and increases in private school tuition fees far beyond the reach of low and medium income earners, a total number of 31,000 students transferred to public schools. The education ministry overcame this situation by appointing 5,000 teachers to ease the burden placed on the 90,000 educators and added a two-shift system in 270 schools. This action prompted criticism from students, parents and teachers, who claim it “disrupts” the educational process as well as their family lives. Some 1.6 million students have started school in the kingdom’s 3,500 public and 2,400 private schools.

UNRWA is suffering a critical financial situation that will force them to make serious service cuts to the kingdom’s Palestinian refugees. This will place a heavier burden on Arab host countries, especially Jordan, which hosts up to 1.9 million Palestinian refugees and half-a-million Iraqi.

The Iraqi Ambassador to Jordan has announced that his government, since October, is now offering Iraqi refugees free air fares and bus rides on weekly basis to encourage refugees to resettle in Iraq. He also noted that the Iraqi government pays each family around $800 while authorities are helping those who fled to retain their former jobs. Even though security and other essential services have not been restored, hundreds of Iraqi families have already returned home.

Religious Situation

The Christians and Muslims of Rihab were thrilled at the news of the discovery of an ancient church (which some claim is the first known Christian place of worship) under a third-century church. A 75-year-old Muslim sheikh mentioned that the town is a big piece of mosaic; as you walk around, you will surely step on an undiscovered mosaic piece here and there. The existence of many water wells and the discovery of nearly 30 churches indicate that in the past Rihab was something big.

The Latin Vicariate in Jordan, with a board of trustees, began their fundraising campaign for the construction of a church, residence and visitors’ center on the east bank of the River Jordan (Bethany across the Jordan) where Jesus Christ was baptized. The shrine will be a constant reminder of the importance of the site and of the holy events that took place there nearly 2,000 years ago.

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