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What does GCC rapprochement mean for Jordan?

In addition to economic benefits, the incoming Biden administration might help boost Jordan’s regional status.

At the Gulf Corporation Council summit in AlUla, Saudi Arabia on January 5, several Persian Gulf states’ representatives signed an agreement to ease the rift with Qatar. The move came a day after Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen land, air, and sea links with Qatar after three-and-half years since the Gulf crisis began.

The Gulf Crisis has impacted the ties between the disputed countries on more than one level. Thus, relations between the Saudi-led bloc and Qatar are unlikely going back to the pre-2017 period overnight. But the recent rapprochement is undoubtedly a positive step in the direction of resolving the crisis. 

Keeping the same distance from all sides

Meanwhile, Jordan stands to benefit from the breakthrough. Amman downgraded its relations with Doha at the beginning of the Gulf Crisis due to pressure from the Riyadh-led bloc. Jordan also revoked the license of Al Jazeera TV channel.

Yet the Saudis were angry that Jordan has not severed ties to Qatar, which may have delayed Saudi investments and aid to the kingdom at a time when Jordan’s economy was in turmoil.

For instance, in 2017, the Saudi Jordanian Investment Fund (SJIF) was established by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia and 16 commercial and Islamic Jordanian banks. “SJIF seeks to invest in viable long-term projects, create a clear and sustainable socio-economic impact in Jordan, and align its objectives with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia’s strategic investment direction,” the fund’s website says.

However, billions of dollars in Saudi investments have been delayed since the SJIF was formed. Saudi Arabia also reportedly declined to renew a large aid package to the kingdom at the end of 2017.

In 2018, IMF-backed austerity measures led to widespread protests. The demonstrations resulted in the then-Prime Minister Hani Al Mulki resigning. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE held a summit in Mecca and pledged $2.5 billion to Jordan. The package included a deposit in Jordan’s central bank, guarantees to the World Bank, annual budget support for five years, and development projects. While the Gulf states deposited over $1 billion in the Jordan’s central bank, little else materialized from the summit.

In contrast, just days after the Mecca summit, Qatar pledged to provide 10,000 jobs for Jordanians in Qatar, and invest $500 million in the kingdom.

The Jordanian government has been facing a budget deficit, youth unemployment, and poor economic growth. While these obstacles are not new, they have worsened in recent years due to, among many other factors, the influx of more refugees from war zones such as Syria. The Jordanian government estimates that nearly 1.4 million Syrians live in the kingdom. 

Although Jordan is keen to maintain its longstanding relations with the other GCC countries, that did not stop the kingdom from restoring ties with Qatar in 2019. Amman’s restoration of relations with Doha demonstrated Jordan’s willingness to keep the same distance from all disputing sides. It also came as a reaffirmation that Amman would want to maintain an independent foreign policy. 

In February 2020, Qatar’s Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani visited Jordan and met King Abdullah II. According to a Royal Court statement, the two leaders examined economic and investment-related fields. They also discussed regional developments, mainly the Palestinian cause. The Emir issued directives to provide 10,000 jobs for Jordanians in Qatar, in addition to the 10,000 job opportunities that were announced in 2018.

Less pressure on Amman

The kingdom welcomed the AlUla summit outcome. Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said: “The ‘Al Ula Statement’ is a considerable achievement to heal the rift, end the Gulf crisis and resume brotherly ties to normal, which enhances Gulf solidarity and stability, for the best service of the ambitions of its peoples. The move also contributes to strengthening Arab solidarity and supporting efforts against common challenges.”

Curtis Ryan, professor of political science at Appalachian State University and author of “Jordan and the Arab Uprisings: Regime Survival and Politics Beyond the State,” told me that Jordan greeted the intra-GCC rapprochement with relief.

“The kingdom has tried to avoid picking a side, maintaining an awkward balancing act especially between Saudi Arabia and Qatar,” he said, adding, “but this rapprochement will put an end to that stress. Jordan saw all of this as an unfortunate distraction that prevented a united Arab front in the face of the various Trump and Kushner measures (such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem).”

Ryan also said that “for Jordan itself, a return to functional Saudi-Qatari relations and a stable GCC is more than welcome and offers a chance for increased Gulf aid and investment in the kingdom, as well as improved labor opportunities for Jordanians in the Gulf, at a time when the Jordanian economy is suffering mightily.”

Indeed, the Jordanian Ministry of Transport announced on January 12 the lifting of restrictions imposed on Jordanian trucks transiting to Saudi Arabia. In a press briefing, Transport Minister Marwan Khitan said that contacts are currently underway with Qatari authorities to grant Jordanian trucks and refrigerators visas to enter Qatar, according to Ammon news agency. Thus, the benefit appears to be both political and economic.

It’s also worth noting that the ambassadors of the GCC states to Jordan discussed advancing Jordanian-Gulf relations and boosting coordination and cooperation in various fields on January 20. The Saudi ambassador, Nayef Al Sudairy, said the GCC countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, are “constantly” working to strengthen relations with Jordan.

The rapprochement also coincides with the inauguration of Joe Biden, with whom King Abdullah II appears to have strong personal ties which could benefit Jordan’s role as a regional player in at least the next four years.

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