Jun 22 2000

New challenges lie ahead

Published by at 12:00 am under Articles,Jordan

The New Jordanian government headed by Ali Abul Ragheb has its hands full as it tries to tackle the many issues that King Abdullah has asked of it. The economy and liberalization are the two key issues that will take up most of the energy of the new administration. For the Jordanian economy to break out of the hibernation it is in, the economic relations with its two key neighbors must dramatically improve. Iraq and Palestine form the natural markets for Jordanian products and services.

Jordan has worked for years developing its land routes in order to help trucks carrying Iraqi bound products to travel from Aqaba to their Iraqi destinations. Iraqi markets have also provided Jordanian traders and businessmen with a lucrative income. The new prime minister himself is said to have made part of his fortune trading with the Iraqis. After ten years of siege on Iraq, the country which has most suffered from this economic boycott has been Jordan. The new Jordanian government will have to play a much bigger role in easing the siege on Iraq for its own benefits. If the siege is not lifted, the Jordanians will have to find alternative remedies to compensate them for the ten years of lose due to this siege.

On the western side of Jordan, the relations with Palestine and Israel will also need a new impetus. The Japanese grant to improve the King Hussein bridge making it accessible to commercial traffic needs to be supported with equally ambitious programs to change some of the archaic travel rules and restrictions. Jordanian cars wishing to use the King Hussein bridge need special permission. Jerusalem residents are not allowed to drive their cars across the King Hussein bridge. An unregulated monopoly has been given to the Arrow Company to give transport passengers from the Jordanian terminal to the physical bridge. This company charges one of the highest rates per kilometer in the world. Every passenger must pay JD15. If there is more than one passenger everyone has to pay JD10. So a family of four has to pay JD 40 to travel the short three-kilometer stretch. This expensive VIP service coupled with the exorbitant Israeli exit tax ($33) make the use of the bridge by businesspeople and the public very expensive. Most of the regular passengers have little choice of public transportation. Taxis at the bridge travelling from and to Amman are out of date and out of the more than 150 cars working the bridge route less than five have cars with air-conditioning.

Jordan’s economic rehabilitation will also need more than the removal of the Iraqi siege and changing travel policies at the bridge. Economic liberalization and restructuring will not work without political liberalization. In addition to the removal of political barriers in many areas, the new Jordanian government will need to remove the direct and indirect control mechanisms on the media. Most dailies and the electronic media are either partially or completely controlled by the government. His Majesty, in answer to a question I posed to him during a recent media conference, promised the privatization of Jordan’s radio and tv within the next year or so. But since that promise was made the committee entrusted with this issue has not met. The Abul Ragheb administration will have to consider a revolution in its media policies if it wants Jordan to follow the models of western democracies. It is inconceivable that the quiet IT revolution that Jordan is witnessing is not paralleled with a similar change in the traditional print and electronic media. How can Jordan explain the legality of any person or institutions broadcasting (text, audio and video) over the Internet while broadcasting terrestrially is a government monopoly?

The decision by the King to appoint an economic personality as the new prime minister will be highly successful in improving the economy of Jordan if the policies of the government are close to the visions of the King.

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