In a turn of fortune for Jordanian King Abdullah II, who has dealt with a series of domestic and external crises, the 59-year-old monarch is destined to become the first Arab leader to meet US President Joe Biden when he visits the White House on Monday.
A staunch ally of the United States, the king has ruled Jordan for the past 21 years, but has experienced difficult relations with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, whom he believed was alienating his country from regional developments.
“There was no warm relationship between Trump and the king,” he told Al Jazeera Saud al-Sharafat, a former brigadier general of the Jordanian Directorate of General Intelligence.
“[Jordan’s] heard the political leaders [Trump] he totally neglected the Hashemite dynasty. “
In 2017 the king told Trump his decision recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would have “dangerous repercussions on the stability and security of the region,” according to a palace statement.
Although Jordan established full relations with Israel in 1994, the king still opposed the business the Trump administration intermediate in 2020 with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.
Analysts say figures from the Trump administration have seen the king as an obstacle to further business.
The king hopes for a better relationship with Biden.
“Jordan will keep a friend in Joe Biden,” Osman-based political analyst Osama al-Sharif told Al Jazeera.
The Biden administration has said it will not move the US embassy to Tel Aviv, but will reopens its consulate general in Jerusalem, re-establishing ties with the Palestinians.
“The president will publicly recognize the particular role of the Hashemites in East Jerusalem and re-establish Jordan’s role as a key interlocutor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Al-Sharif said.
“This visit puts the wind in the sails of the king who has been under a bit of pressure,” Natasha Hall, a former Middle East program partner at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Al Jazeera.
The power to stay
In April, Jordan was rocked by a sedition plot which authorities say was destined to defeat the monarch. A distant relative of the king and former senior adviser have recently been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the plot to replace the king with his brother, Prince Hamzah bin al-Hussein.
Prince Hamzah was placed under house arrest in April and pledged allegiance to his brother, but not before posting videos in which he called for rampant corruption, a break in governance and a creeping lack of political freedom in the kingdom.
Allegations that foreign powers were involved, or were aware of the plot, reveal tensions between Jordan and his ally, Saudi Arabia.
As head of the Hashemite royal family, King Abdullah is the official custodian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, which Jordan ruled until its defeat by Israel in the 1967 War.
Nearly half of Jordan’s 10.6 million inhabitants are of Palestinian origin and many Jordanians have strong family ties across the border into the West Bank.
As the king prepares to visit the White House, Abdullah not only survived Trump, but also his close ally, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he had an antagonistic relationship.
Before leaving on his trip to the United States, King Abdullah secretly met with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet in Amman, according to several Israeli media reports. Coinciding with this meeting, the two foreign ministers of the countries agreed to an agreement they saw Israel has doubled its water sales to the scarce reign of resources, and allow an increase in Jordanian exports to the West Bank.
While the palace’s intrigues and nearby rivalries have gained much international attention, the king also faces growing discontent at home over corruption and a stagnant economy.
“The economy has to reach the top of the list of discussions,” Sharafat said. “We are in a very bad situation where every aspect of life has been affected by the economic crisis.”
The Jordanian economy has been deteriorating for several years. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has been declining more or less since 2009.
The economy is not only growing fast enough to create enough jobs for the growing population of the country. Jordan has one of the lowest official participation rates in the world. Legions of workers worked in the informal economy, where they lacked job security and benefits.
The pandemic has only exacerbated these economic challenges, shattering tourism that accounts for 20 percent of GDP and hammering remittances from the Gulf following the collapse of oil prices in 2020. In the last quarter of last year, unemployment reached 24.7 percent.
Jordan has also dealt with an influx of refugees from neighboring conflicts, hosting nearly 1.3 million Syrians from its war-torn neighbor.
External aid is crucial to sustain the country. The United States is Jordan’s largest donor, contributing more than $ 1.5 billion by 2020. The level of U.S. aid exceeds the amount provided to Egypt, another US ally. in the region with a population 10 times the size of Jordan.
The king is expected to seek more support, but some analysts say there are limits to how much more the United States will provide. Even with strained relations under the Trump administration, the country has seen an increase in aid in 2018 – $ 1.3 billion more in five years.
“I don’t see much hope in military or economic aid. We have really reached the peak in terms of assistance we can receive from the United States, ”Oreib Rantawi, director of the Al Quds Center for Political Studies, based in Amman, told Al Jazeera.
Pressure for reform
Many ordinary people say that the country is afflicted by high levels of corruption that have infiltrated almost every aspect of life. And while external shocks have certainly weighed on the economy, it has bigger structural problems to deal with.
The social contract that maintains stability in the scarce realm of resources revolves around a vast system of patronage in which Jordanian tribes support the Hashemite monarchy, and in return are provided with public sector wages.
Even with measures taken to address public spending as part of its IMF loans, Jordan’s 2021 budget shows how entrenched the system is. This year, 65 percent of the state’s total spending is devoted to public sector wages and pensions, and 17 percent is earmarked for debt service in arrears.
Hall said a potential discussion between Jordan and the Biden administration could seek to link aid to political reform in a country that has recently been listed in the Freedom House Index from “partially free” to “not free.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be a confrontational approach, it’s going to be more friendly,” he said of Washington’s possible efforts to get Jordan to tackle the political reforms that have recently taken place.
Following the sedition plot, King Abdullah appointed a 92-member reform committee, but its scope was limited to the country’s electoral laws and some critics claim it is a heartfelt attempt by the government to push the speeches of significant changes along the way.
“The current system is not sustainable,” Sharafat said, adding, “It may not be in public view but I believe the king will hear criticism in DC of the way things are handled internally.”
Rantawi said the Biden administration’s focus on human rights offers the kingdom’s reformers an opportunity, but stressed the need for genuine efforts.
“We should not be alone in pleasing the new in Washington DC. It is our duty and it is in Jordan’s interest to put in place systemic democratic reforms,” he said.
Complaints surrounding political and economic issues will continue to plague Jordan as the U.S. focus on terrorism recedes and Washington reevaluates its commitments in the region to address threats of great power from China and Russia.
While recent months have seemed sad for Jordan, the changes shaking the region also offer opportunities. Last month, King Abdullah II met with his Egyptian and Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad as the three countries sought to deepen cooperation on economic and security issues.
“I think the United States is looking for reliable agents to deal with some fires in the region, and I see that Jordan is gaining more importance for the United States,” Rantawi said.
The challenge for Jordan will be to exploit its stability and the confidence that Western states have in it to create more opportunities for its peoples. If possible, the Hashemite monarchy known for its power of permanence may find its solid place in the new Middle East.