Jordan — June 2007

Sociopolitical Situation

Raising the minimum number of required members to form a political party from 50 to 500 has been a last-minute effort by the government to force parties to merge, thus establishing parties with stronger political bases, and to curb the power of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Lower House of Parliament. The number of parties now stands roughly at 35.

An international conference met in Geneva in April to discuss the current exodus of Iraqis to neighboring countries — particularly Jordan and Syria — and of the need to support the host countries burdened with their care.

Conservative estimates suggest 700,000 Iraqis living in Jordan. The number probably exceeds one million people. Authorities in Amman, with the cooperation of the Norway-based Fafo Foundation, will conduct a survey of the displaced, gathering information such as ethnic and religious identity.

The influx of these refugees has had significant political, economic, social and security consequences that can no longer be ignored or underestimated. Jordan needs extra social and economic facilities to accommodate them, such as houses, schools and hospitals. Public infrastructure, such as roads and highways, are constantly jammed with traffic, creating a surge in pollution. The security apparatus works overtime to maintain control. It is true that not all the Iraqis are poor, but many are financially in very bad shape, as can be seen from the homeless Iraqis wandering in public squares and poor Iraqi women begging among offices and houses. Even those who are wealthy have disrupted the stability of Jordan’s real estate market, causing a surge in the cost of land and housing, squeezing out the kingdom’s middle classes. The increased demands on consumer products, especially fruits and vegetables, have led to sharp price increases, disrupting the budgets of limited-income groups of Jordanian families. Iraqis are forbidden to work, but they accept, illegally, lower pay than Jordanians workers, thus exacerbating Jordan’s already high unemployment rate.

The burden on the nation’s water resources is also an issue; Jordan is considered one of the 10 poorest countries in water resources in the world.

Last year, the government finally permitted school-aged Iraqis to enter the nation’s public schools, provided they could find a place in the already crowded and understaffed classrooms. According to figures from the Ministry of Education, no more than 40,000 Iraqi students out of the 200,000 who are in Jordan were enrolled in public schools.

Religious Situation

Divisions within Orthodox Christian community surfaced after the Jordanian government revoked its recognition of Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem. As part of an agreement before he was elected in 2005, he committed himself to the implementation of a 1958 law that stipulated the establishment of a mixed council of eight lay people and ordained priests, as well as the appointment of two Arab bishops as members of the Holy Synod. He was obliged also to compile a comprehensive list of all of church assets to be presented to the government.

A government source said that “in two years, he has not fulfilled any of his commitments … we expected him to be active and transparent after his predecessor’s actions, but instead he has avoided even coming to Jordan. ”

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