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March 21, 2021 5:55 am

COVID-19 and Economic Crisis Have Jordan on the Brink

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

Opinion

King of Jordan Abdullah II addresses the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France, Jan. 15, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Vincent Kessler.

JNS.org – The cancellation of Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah’s visit to the Temple Mount on March 10, 2021 led to tension and outrage in the kingdom. But the angry demonstrations that have been rocking Jordan since March 13 are focused on the coronavirus crisis, rising unemployment, and the country’s severe economic crisis.

The most vigorous demonstrations have been in the area of Tafaileh, east of the capital Amman, Irbid, and in the area of Ziban, some 40 miles south of Amman. Jordanian security officials have detained dozens of demonstrators so far.

The protests erupted following a tragedy at the Al-Hussein New Salt Hospital, where at least seven patients died after the hospital’s oxygen supply failed. King Abdullah ordered the firing of Health Minister Nazir Obeidat, a medical professor, visited the hospital, and instructed the hospital director to submit his resignation. Jordanian police arrested five hospital employees, who will be charged with causing seven deaths. The Jordanian government convened to discuss the disaster.

Coronavirus hits Jordan hard

Jordan cannot cope with the coronavirus crisis. The number of infected individuals continues to rise, despite the economy and education system having been entirely shut down.

Jordan received 144,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines, but they are not enough to deal with the rapidly-spreading UK variant of the virus, which accounts for 70% of new cases in the country.

The daily number of new infections exceeds 8,000 per day. The number of deaths from the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic has reached 5,285, and so far, about 505,000 people have been infected.

Jordan was in a difficult economic situation even before the coronavirus crisis, dealing with more than one million new refugees from Syria. Jordan received no financial aid from Saudi Arabia, and the International Monetary Fund demanded that it carry out reforms as a condition for receiving loans.

In mid-2018, there were large demonstrations in Jordan against the government’s intention to impose new taxes, and Prime Minister Hani Mulki’s government was forced to resign.

The Jordanian public seems to be fed up with Abdullah’s method of replacing government and ministers whenever the economic situation worsens to alleviate the unrest. The public wants a deep-rooted solution to its problems, and now criticism is being directed at the Jordanian royal house.

How the virus invades Jordan

At first, the Jordanian regime managed the coronavirus crisis with a steady hand. There was strict enforcement of the guidelines to prevent the spread of the pandemic throughout the kingdom. However, a year after the pandemic outbreak, the regime is struggling with its effects and the worsening economic crisis.

A principal reason for the increased spread of coronavirus in Jordan is the government’s failure to close its land borders with Syria and Iraq. The truck drivers who enter Jordan daily, without tests, spread the virus within the kingdom.

Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh, who was appointed to office last October, has been unable to contain the epidemic. The ongoing demonstrations are transforming into protests against the Jordanian monarchy, and this dangerous situation could destabilize the government in Jordan. The Hashemite monarchy urgently needs external assistance to deal with the medical and economic crisis.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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