The Levant

Jordan's fragile stability

Jordan is considered an anchor of stability in a region shaken by crises. Yet one year on from the protests of May 2018, the country continues to face massive economic and political challenges. With youth unemployment on the rise – feeding massive social frustration – criticism of poor governance in the kingdom is growing. By Claudia Mende

It is a day like any other in Amman, the capital of Jordan: the afternoon congestion, which brings traffic to a complete standstill, is fraying nerves. "We don't even have public transport in Amman," complains Mohammed, who spends a lot of time behind the wheel for his job. "The air quality is just appalling and we waste hours every day in traffic jams." He explains how hard it is to feed a family in the current climate. "We pay for our children's education, but they can't get jobs at the end of it ... but we can at least be grateful for King Abdullah," he concludes bitterly.

One year on from the protests of May 2018, frustration in the kingdom is more than palpable. The West considers Jordan to be an anchor of stability in a region rocked by upheaval. Between Syria's seemingly endless conflict, Iraq descending into chaos and an increasingly authoritarian regime in Egypt, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan seems to be an oasis of calm in the eye of a storm.

Reliable ally during the refugee crisis

What's more, Jordan has taken in about 700,000 Syrian refugees – something that goes down well in the West. This is why international donors are doing all they can to support the country, in the hope that it will remain stable. Germany is also sending a lot of money to Jordan. Its Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development alone funded projects to the tune of €300 million in 2018and the same sum has been earmarked for this year. The USA and the Gulf States are also pumping billions into the country.

But despite all this, the economic situation has deteriorated further and the anger about social injustice is growing. The cost of food, rent and transport has exploded in recent years. Amman is now the most expensive capital in the region with a cost of living to match Europe. According to the World Bank, unemployment officially stands at 18 percent. In reality, it is closer to 30 percent and as high as 40 percent for the under 25s. While one third of the population ekes out a living below the poverty line, the trendy cafes in Amman's in-district, Jebel Weibdeh, are full to bursting.

Jordanian families invest heavily in the education of their sons and daughters. Although the number of university graduates continues to rise, education is no longer the ticket to a better life: young people simply can't find jobs once they have completed their training.

Jordanʹs former prime minister Hani Mulki (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)
Forced to resign: in May and June 2018, thousands of Jordanians protested nationwide against the government's austerity measures and demanded Hani Mulki's resignation. They underlined their demands for his resignation with slogans like: "The Jordanian people will not capitulate " or "Down with the government"

Youth unemployment is social dynamite

"Despite the fact that I studied abroad and did lots of work placements and projects after my degree, I just can't find a job," says a young woman in her early thirties, "and that is so frustrating."

According to Asma Rashahneh (50), local councillor in the city of Madaba, about 50 km south of the capital, Jordan's main problems are the lack of jobs and the consequences for society. "Some university graduates search for ten years before finding work."

She goes on to say that getting a foot in the door is particularly difficult because companies want applicants with experience – something that young people just do not have. Because there are hardly any parks or sporting facilities and far too few leisure activities on offer for young people, they just hang around for years on end. "Young people don't know what to do and that is very dangerous," says Rashahneh. Drugs, alcohol and extremism are omnipresent temptations, something that has been playing into the hands of a Salafist scene that is active all around the country.

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