At the Dead Sea, Jordan's message was 'staying alive'

05/28/2015 06:06 am ET | Updated May 28, 2016

Jordanians are not known to be the most cheerful among Arabs; in fact, their reputation is that they constantly frown and rarely smile.

Of course, this is a mere stereotype and probably an unfair exaggeration often used in the context of popular jokes; however, the harsh reality is that Jordanians have very few reasons to be happy.

To start with, the Hashemite Kingdom is a real-life manifestation of what it means to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Indeed, it is almost miraculous that this country is still standing when turmoil is - literally - surrounding it from all directions, be it in ISIS-infected Iraq, war-torn Syria, handicapped Lebanon or in the occupied Palestinian lands across the bank.

Obviously, the spillover of the disastrous situation in all these neighboring countries takes many forms. One incredibly graphic and gruesome example is last February's video of a Jordanian fighter pilot by the name of Moaz al-Kasasbeh who was burnt alive by ISIS terrorists.

Of course, many Jordanians are fiercely and publically anti-ISIS. Most of them see this group for what it is: a bunch of thugs who have nothing to do with Islam. Others oppose ISIS, not out of rejection of their evil ideology, but due to a widely spread conspiracy theory which suggests that ISIS was actually formed, and is still being managed by, the CIA (as a member of the audience told columnist David Ignatius when he was a guest speaker last October at the Columbia Global Center in Amman).

There are also some ISIS supporters among Jordanians who wrongfully see the terrorist group as a natural Sunni ally when compared to the murderous (Alawite) Assad Regime in Syria or the tyranny of the (former Shiite PM) Nouri al-Maliki's rule in Iraq.

'Damned if you, damned if you don't'

With a population of approximately six million people, Jordan is incredibly unfortunate when it comes to natural resources. It has long struggled to secure sustainable solutions for providing water, electricity and fuel for its people. What doesn't help is that the kingdom - given its geographical location - has always been a destination for hundreds of thousands of refugees coming from war-torn neighboring countries.

In a few cases, such as with Palestinian and Iraqi craftsmen, businessmen and investors, their migration into Amman and other cities has had a significantly positive impact in helping to build the nation and inject much needed cash into various business sectors.

However, in most cases, Jordan was faced with a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation. They can't - for humanitarian reasons - decline the entry of needy, homeless women, children and men. At the same time, once they allow them in, the country has to live with the economic woes of such a decision; increasing property prices, lower wages for local employees (given the cheaper refugee option) and the massive cost of maintaining refugee camps.

So one can only imagine what Jordan's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Najib Fakhoury had in mind when he spoke during the Al Arabiya News Channel's panel discussion a few days ago at the regional World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting at the Dead Sea.

"We have over 1.4 million Syrians and this is creating challenges," he told Al Arabiya's Rima Maktabi, noting that the majority of these refugees are unregistered and calling for what he described as a "Marshal Plan to provide support."


Caption: Jordan's Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Imad Najib Fakhoury takes part in an Al Arabiya panel. (Al Arabiya)

'Stayin' Alive'

Despite these gloomy realities, and a national reputation of being pessimistic, Jordan positioned itself to be the complete opposite at the WEF when it displayed how keen it was on "staying alive" and why positive thinking and determining to succeed against the odds is often the best way to face challenges.

After listening to King Abdullah II's opening remarks at the conference, one can't but applaud the resilience, stamina and determination of this country not to surrender to the challenging environment that surrounds it.


Caption: King Abdullah of Jordan opened the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. (Photo courtesy: WEF)

"We are pleased to see the budget deficit down by 15 percent, and foreign reserves up to the highest level in Jordan's history. And despite all the challenges that surround us, Jordan has been able to grow at more than 3 percent last year and is expected to grow at close to 4 percent over this year," said King Abdullah.

The opening speech was followed by the announcement of a national drive called "Jordan Re-launched" which aims to attract investment and promote opportunities in the kingdom.

Upon the conclusion of the announcement, I found myself recalling a great quote by Winston Churchill: "If you are going through hell, keep going!"

Jordan is definitely an example for many other Arab countries that moving forward is probably the best way to escape a fire surrounding you. Obviously, the quicker you move, the better.

*This blog post was originally posted in Al Arabiya News.