When considering the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which spans between 13 and 20 countries, it’s worth focusing on one just to experience and understand the particulars of the place rather than be overwhelmed with too many details. Which country to start with doesn’t matter as much as picking one and diving into the details. It’s like studying political philosophy and asking, “With which philosopher is it best to start?” The answer is start with any of them and then branch out. For your poor correspondent‘s (YPC) more detailed study of MENA, Jordan is the starting point.
Even though Jordan is one of the best-run MENA countries, it has some issues, which will be organized according to the standard counterinsurgency topics: security, governance, and development. First is security, which is very good compared to ther MENA countries, but it’s getting worse due to the underlying demographics of the region—that is, ever more people without enough jobs, housing, and opportunity for them. Jordan features Palestinians who have been there for generations and new waves of Syrians who instead of going back to Syria want instead to integrate into Syria and stay. Jordan, a country of 8 million has already accepted 1 million immigrants and the pressure to accept more is increasing, which works to decrease Jordan’s security.
Second, Jordan is politically a monarchy ruled by King Abdullah, who is both Sunni and as pro-Israel as possible under the circumstances. Two items for further consideration are that (1) authoritarian MENA countries are more stable than democratically elected ones, and (2) the security interests of pro-US countries Jordan, Israel, and Saudi Arabia align. The key political concern that impacts Jordan’s stabiity however is corruption. In western countries, corruption concerns the truthfulness and honesty of government officials, but MENA countries have a more relaxed perspective on such issues. The core concern regards the spreading of available economic resources to among the various tribes, and the combination of economic slowing and arriving migrants has reduced the amount of resources to distribute.
Third, Jordan’s economy in fact cannot develop or grow fast enough to absorb the amount of newly arrived people, so it has become a donor country that requires international aid to remain viable. Jordan’s budget features a yearly shortfall of around $2 billion, and the US, who under President Obama has sought to disengage from the region, has not made up the difference and other countries are slow to do so. This shortfall drives instability in the short-term by creating social pressures for Jordan’s monarchy, which can’t be allowed to grow due to its proximinty to Israel and Syria. The way forward for Jordan isn’t clear, but fixing its sources of instability isn’t possible in the short-term, so they will have to be managed as they have been for decades even as they continue to increase.