Jordan's Political and Energy Challenges

4 MINS READJan 15, 2013 | 07:00 GMT
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The Iraqi government's decision to close its borders last Wednesday underscores the problems Jordan faces in securing its energy supply. The resulting societal discontent feeds into domestic issues that have weakened the Jordanian monarchy. Other factors, such as the weakening of Fatah in the West Bank, contribute to place Jordan in a position of instability.

In a statement Monday, Jordanian Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Alaa al-Batayneh urged the Iraqi government to exempt 300 tanker trucks filled with Iraqi crude from the border closure. Iraq closed the border in response to security concerns related to ongoing Sunni protests of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman explains.

Jordan imports an estimated 10,000 barrels of oil per day from Iraq, approximately 10 percent of its overall consumption, and as recently as last month al-Maliki was in Amman visiting with King Abdullah II to discuss providing Amman with more supplies. Jordan's energy insecurity is well documented; the country has survived for decades on subsidized energy from its Arab neighbors.

Before 2003, Jordan received discounted crude oil from Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in Iraq, and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Amman depended on subsidized imports of natural gas from Egypt. But the deterioration of security in the wake of the fall of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt's decision to reduce subsidies has forced Jordan to rely on expensive oil-based alternatives from Saudi Arabia, and to a limited extent on supplies from Iraq.

Jordan's lack of a reliable energy supply has resulted in internal unrest. The monarchy's finances, the instability of critical food and energy subsidies directed at citizens, and fuel price hikes have sparked protests of their own. Last November, 2,000 protesters called for Abdullah to step down due to a government decision to lift fuel subsidies.

These energy challenges and their subsequent social consequences have exacerbated an already unstable domestic situation in Jordan. The country has been affected by the regional unrest that emerged during the Arab Spring in early 2011 and worsened because the king was forced to balance the tribal East Bankers — who make up 40 percent of Jordan's population — the Palestinian Jordanians, and an ascendant Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood.

Jordan will hold parliamentary elections Jan. 23, but so far the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front, have said they will not participate. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan boycotted parliamentary elections in 2010, and at the time the maneuver did not threaten the regime. But in light of the political ascendance of Islamists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya over the past year, the monarchy urgently needs to reach an understanding with the Muslim Brotherhood if it hopes to avoid unrest in the wake of parliamentary elections.

Beyond its energy supply challenges and internal political issues, Jordan also faces increasing uncertainty in the West Bank. On Sunday, Abdullah said in al-Hayat that Jordan would host delegates from Israel and the Palestinian Territories to discuss the resumption of peace negotiations. In a separate statement released by the royal palace Monday, the king stressed the importance of negotiations between the two sides in calming regional tensions.

The West Bank's uncertainty is growing as Fatah looks with increasing unease at an ever more defensive and reluctant negotiator in Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said publicly that if parties that reject negotiations with Palestinians for a two-state solution emerge victorious from Israeli elections on Jan. 22, violence in the West Bank will result.

Rumors have been circulating over the past several weeks over a planned uprising in the West Bank led by Fatah, a scenario that Hamas is quietly encouraging as a way of expanding its influence in the territory. Because a majority of Jordan's population is Palestinian, the prospect of increased tensions between Israel and Fatah is particularly unsettling as Jordan attempts to manage domestic unrest ahead of its own parliamentary elections.

The prospect of a weakened Jordan is a major concern for both Israel and the United States. Jordan is a partner for both in the region, particularly for Israel, whose environment has grown increasingly hostile in the past year with the collapse of Syria and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Instability in Jordan is something Israel must consider as it navigates its own elections, and indeed Israel may have to factor in the impact its actions in the West Bank could have on stability in Jordan.

Jordan's position is uncertain: Its financial resources are limited, and the decline of King Abdullah’s power has allowed the tribal East Bankers, Palestinian-Jordanians and the Muslim Brotherhood to compete for more influence. Meanwhile, it faces uncertainty in the West Bank and threats to its energy supply that it cannot do much to control.

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