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Economics vs. Politics in Jordan

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Politics and economics are always intertwined. In Jordan, this was clearly the case when the government raised energy prices.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour went to great lengths on Jordan TV Tuesday night to explain to the Jordanian public why his government was forced to hike prices of gasoline, kerosene, diesel and cooking gas. But the problems facing the Ensour government are much deeper than simply the budget deficit or subsidized prices.

Ensour is correct to blame some of the problems on the Arab Spring, but he is wrong as to how the Arab Spring exacerbated the situation. He tried to blame the blowing up of the Egyptian gas pipe and the demonstrations of the hirak (movements) in Jordan for the financial crisis. However, the prime minister, who was opposed to the recently approved Elections Law, made no mention of this restrictive law that made an important sector of the society refuse to participate in the upcoming elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which opposes this law along with a number of nationalist movements, found in the current price hikes a perfect vehicle to make its political position known. A brotherhood leader, Murad Adaila, made this issue perfectly clear on BBC Arabic the following morning, stating that the authorities' insistence on its controversial Elections Law has led people to protest both economic and political decisions.

The difficulty of the current government in Jordan goes beyond the problem with elections and Islamists. The fact that the country is preparing for elections that will, for the first time, have 27 seats that will be elected on a national list basis has weakened the ability of the government to rally political leaders to its position.

While the country is facing harsh economic realities, most leading politicians, especially those wishing to run in the upcoming elections, have chosen to stay quiet rather than defend an unpopular economic decision. This means that the brunt of the problem with raising the prices falls squarely on the shoulders of the prime minister.

Speaking frankly and directly to the Jordanian public, Ensour did insist that he and he alone bears the full responsibility of this difficult decision. While the premier alluded to the fact that this decision should have been taken a few years ago, he expressed understanding of how previous prime ministers had a hard time with it.

The reality of the economic and political situation in Jordan naturally has a security escape. With the monarch having the power to reverse government decisions, some are looking to King Abdullah to address the popular protests. However, such an intervention, as witnessed during the Tarawneh government, is a two-edged sword. Having asked for the reversal of the price hike, the King provided the public with a precedent that might in some ways provide ammunition to the protesters. Some believe that if the protests continue, the King will intervene and change the decision of his government. Still others are talking about the exaggerated price hike the government imposed.

Whatever the reasons, politics have an important effect on the economic scene in Jordan. It is impossible to divorce the two.

In order to dig itself out of this economic situation, the leadership of Jordan has no choice but to find a political mechanism that ensures that all sectors of society, including the Islamists, are participating in the overall decision-making process. If not, the country will continue to suffer from ups and downs and changes of governments, which cannot be the formula for long-term political or economic stability in the country.