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An SOS from Amman

Those who listened to the Friday Sermon of January 20 given by Jordan’s Chief Justice and Imam of the Hashemite Court Sheikh Ahmed Hilyal were certainly shocked. Hilyal sent an SOS message to the Arab Gulf rulers that Jordan is drowning and that it should be helped immediately before it is too late.

The speech unleashed a wave of criticism that forced the Royal Court in Amman to reluctantly ask Hilyal to resign his official post. What Hilyal said was met by wide criticism as it was seen damaging to Jordanian national pride and belittling and humiliating to the Kingdom. It was viewed as begging other nations in public.

However, in his speech, Hilyal mentioned the threats that face Jordan in scary terms. He talked about hidden forces waiting to use the economic hardship that the country is going through in order to mobilize the streets and demonstrate in thousands in wide-scaled protests. He reminded listeners of what happened in Syria after similar demonstration erupted in 2011.

Most likely, Hilyal’s sermon was cleared by some authority in the Royal Court before he gave it at the main mosque in Amman in front of hundreds of high-level officials. However, a government official, obviously upset by the storm, confirmed that Justice Hilayel was not asked to say what he said. “He was expressing his own views”, the official said.

To say that the internal situation in Jordan is threatened is an understatement. Only in the last four years Jordan had to take close to 750,000 Syrian refugees, its trade ties with Syria were almost cut after losing its ties with Iraq more than a decade earlier, the threat of Al Qaeda and ISIL is mounting steadily, tourism is declining, and signs of another episode of the “Arab Spring” are gathering rapidly on the horizon of the small Kingdom.

The most significant sign of warning came from scattered protests by Jordanian middle class following the government decision to impose new taxes to narrow the increasing gap in this year’s budget. The intelligence service submitted to the Royal Court reports warning of spreading discontent, particularly in areas which used to be a bastion of support for the Royal family.

The warning of Haliyal followed a message from Saudi Arabia to King Abdullah II informing him that the once every 5-year assistance package worth $5 billion “maybe delayed”. The package was paid once in 2011 to help immunize Jordan against the virus of the Arab Spring which was spreading at that time. Riyadh cited lower oil prices and its own budget deficit to explain the “delay”, which was taken in Amman as a prelude to cancelation.

“Jordan played a role in protecting Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia, and prevented any infiltration of terrorists through its borders” Haliayl said.

The SOS which was sent by Hailyal may have been an exaggerated reaction to the delay (cancellation) of the Arab Gulf assistance package, but Jordan’s economy is truly suffering, just like many other economies in the region. Watching the example of Egypt, the IMF does not want to review its shock prescription of economic reform or prolong the period of implementation to make the shock easier in the current critical security situation in the region.

Rarely we see researchers examining the reasons of this lack of economic energy, diminishing foreign capital and the impact of this deterioration on stability.

So, when Shaikh Hailyal was sending his SOS, he was unintentionally focusing eyes on this important dimension of regional stability. We see that the security of two countries, Jordan and Egypt, at least, in the Middle East is directly threatened by economic hardship. If turmoil spreads in both, the security map of the whole region will be changed for decades to come.

The reason is that the only organized opposition in the two country is that of radical Jihadists. Domestic turmoil in both Jordan and Egypt will grant those violent groups a pivotal platform to turn around the situation regionally.

Instead of taking security as a military issue only, it may be the time for major global forces to debate what should be done to assist regional economies which are currently in the intensive care phase like those of Egypt or Jordan. Saudi Arabia and the GCC countries cannot play the role of the banker of the region for a long time, regarding their current financial difficulties.

There is no doubt that a collapse of security in Egypt or Jordan will negatively impact the GCC. But it will also negatively impact the world. Middle Eastern security should be as Middle Eastern terrorism: A global issue. Those who pretend not to see the consequences of a regional security collapse will pay the price sooner or later.  

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