THE Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, its people and its king deviated from the Arab norm — actually the Third World’s norm — in the recent protests which reflected awareness and excellence in dealing with a major crisis.
Both the people and the authority dealt with the crisis by striving towards reforms without drifting into chaos in the form of violence on the side of protesters, without aggression and repression from security agencies, and without the king’s obstinacy in terms of his position on the issue.
This civilized way of dealing with the recent crisis is a manifestation of awareness of the needs during a sensitive period in terms of the economy and living standard of a country with limited capabilities and natural resources.
Nevertheless, this country possesses vast knowledge and culture that qualify it to perform a vital role in the region by pushing towards the open economy.
In European countries which do not possess vast natural resources, one of the governments announced the need to increase taxes to improve services in every aspect of the country. But prior to that, it carried out an awareness campaign for the people who have to pay from their personal pockets.
The Jordanian government should have done the same to make people accept the increase of taxes, because such decisions cannot accommodate obstinacy between the government and the people.
The governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain increased fuel, electricity and other charges. The people accepted the increase as the process was preceded by an awareness campaign through which a lot of opinions were expressed to protect low income earners and secure alternatives.
In the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, the State announced major investment incentives; some of which reached the level of investors having 100 percent ownership of companies. Also in Saudi Arabia, the markets were opened, in addition to several major projects which encouraged investments and employment of its people.
Your Majesty King Abdullah II, let us be frank. Everyone knows Jordan historically. Since its declaration as a kingdom in the 1920s, your grandfather King Abdullah I faced major challenges, but his wisdom in confrontation made him move forward to build a State.
Without his wisdom, half of the Jordanians today would have been displaced. Despite the limited capabilities, the country’s institutions were fortified through the work system, which was based on cooperation between the ruler and the people.
The same happened during the reign of your father, the late King Hussein, when some international circles attempted to make the kingdom an alternative land for the Palestinians.
Such ill attempts led to civil war in September 1970, which is known as the ‘Black September’. Through his wisdom, he triumphed over the crisis. In fact, he transformed the crisis into an opportunity for expanding the role of Jordan in the region.
The kind of crisis you are facing today is not political as it was in the past. It is the outcome of the global recession whose shadow has spread to all countries and low income earners have felt its effects. The only exception is that Jordan has numerous investment opportunities due to its relations with the United States and Europe, particularly after the Wadi Araba Treaty that broke barriers to your country’s exports.
Unfortunately, these opportunities were not exploited due to investment laws which prevented economic development. It is not out of place to say that those who laid down these laws intended to use them for personal benefits rather than allowing the kingdom to reap the fruit. Consequently, failure to correct these laws will make things remain as they are now.
This means that increasing taxes will be the only solution to the crisis — whether the current government or another one approves it later, or it gets amended in the House of Representatives or Senate (lower and upper houses). This is because the State has no source of funds other than taxes to continue providing services at various levels.
As we have stated, the United States and Europe offer numerous trade facilities to Jordan. This amounts to motivating industries, agriculture and services to boost the domestic economy. However, it is unfortunate now as this must pass through a Jordanian partner whose contribution is just his name and nationality, which is like collecting royalty from the fund of a foreign investor.
It is true that Jordan is a suitable environment for investment, but it is not marketed correctly. Instead, it is a ‘repellant’ while the political campaigns carried out by activists and politicians increased the rate of being unattractive to whoever wants to invest in your country. They are against the idea of consulting experts from abroad, because some of them are either connected to a certain political agenda or do not want the country to develop and transform into a productive market.
We all know what Malaysia looked like before the experiment of Mahathir Mohammad turned it into an advanced country. The story is the same with Singapore which Lee Kuan Yew transformed from a Third World to an advanced country in less than a generation. It is the same with the United Arab Emirates where Sheikh Zayed and two of his children — Khalifa and Mohammad, in collaboration with Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashed transformed it into an advanced and one of the most luxurious countries in the world.
The Chinese experiment is the best example of industrial advancement and growth. In spite of its massive expertise, China sought the services of an Iraqi-born British expert over three decades ago who recommended openness to the world.
Your Majesty, it is true that the challenges during the reign of your grandfather and father were political, so they were able to rescue Jordan from the consequences. You have also been able to move ahead with the economic renaissance through a series of laws that attract investments.
At this juncture, we may need to look into the Egyptian experience during the tenure of President Abdulfatah el-Sisi. He took over the reins of leadership when the financial reserve was barely $8 billion. He told his people that there was a crisis but “we have to be patient with what we are planting so we can reap its fruit.” Here is the Egyptian economy booming due to the flexible investment laws through which partnerships were sealed with big international companies.
You have shown that you are civilized in dealing with the recent crisis. This is the habit of reformist leaders who seek to serve their country. There is no doubt that your position is welcomed and appreciated internationally and regionally, and by your people; but the way out of the crisis is to open doors for investment and exploit big opportunities as well as market them properly.
Your Majesty, in the past years, the Emirate of Fujairah used to export stones of the mountains to the GCC countries to build roads and for construction. These exporting factories were also administered by expatriate experts. At the time, Dubai was just a desert without any sign of life as the extraction of oil did not start yet just like its GCC sisters; but strong will created an economic and tourism miracle, as well as centers of knowledge and industries.
Your Majesty, the current era is the era of building Jordan economically. Therefore, you need not do more than finding what you can invest in and market it. The United States of America imports clothes, other products and goods from China and Bangladesh, which are in the Far East. Jordan, with its men and workers, will be better than them.
Jordanians must invest their potential and be proud of using the experience of others.
By Ahmed Al-Jarallah
Editor-in-Chief, the Arab Times