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Political Analysis

Sense and Insensibility in Covid-19 Jordan

The Jordanian reaction to the global coronavirus pandemic draped swiftly across the Kingdom. The unified leadership strategy wove consistent messaging from His Majesty King Abdullah II’s Royal Court, the government, and the armed forces from the onset of the first confirmed cases. Public health measures for national safety received top priority in this country that prides itself on its international positioning as an illustrious medical tourism hub.[1] To contain the internal spread of COVID-19, the quickly-declared national state of emergency patched together tactics of lockdowns, curfews, drone surveillance, closed borders, public gathering bans, media censorship, closed schools, quarantines, arrests, and penalty fines strenuously and continuously over several months. Freedom of movement between the governorates restricted economic activity.[2] This has only recently been alleviated, although Jordan’s main airport still remains closed for routine commercial flights at the time of writing.[3] Moreover, the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker places Jordan’s rank amongst the highest in terms of government response stringency.[4]

Jordan has attracted international news coverage from prominent media networks such as Al Jazeera [5], BBC [6], the Agence France-Presse [7], and more. ABC News [8], CNN [9], and NPR [10] label Jordan’s COVID-19 defense as “one of the world’s strictest lockdowns”. The Health Minister, Dr. Saad Jaber, is often framed in the news as a hero by foreign networks like France 24 [11] and Christian Science Monitor [12]. Domestic news coverage also knits a positive spin about the strict measures [13]. Jordanian national television constantly broadcasted nationalistic songs. The poetic lyrics and video imagery often idolize the domestically patrolling army who enforces the federal COVID-19 defense plan.[14] The Minister of Health himself is also the subject of such leveraged cultural assets as well.[15]

As a consequence of this internal control, the resulting rate of infection is only 1,147 with only 10 fatalities as of July 6 2020. [16]

Nonetheless, the lack of dramatic presence of COVID-19 in Jordan does not distract from another pressing problem, which is, unfortunately, not unique to the nation: the sharp rise in unemployment due to global recession. Prior to this year, Jordan was relatively vulnerable economically. Now, Jordan will have to comprehensively reckon the reality of the ongoing spill-over economic effects wrought by a decline in key national GDP contributions such as tourism and foreign investments. Although loyalty and trust in the government remains seemingly high, the social fabric of the nation might find itself stretched if many find that their sources of income remain diminished or unstable as time advances. This is not only an issue triggered by domestic downsizing; the problem is exacerbated by a large number of expats forced to return to Jordan due to their loss of jobs and work visas abroad. The government might seek to alleviate this immediate pressure through a Central Bank-opened fund, Himat Watan. [17] The aim is to provide financial handouts to those in need; however, this short-term solution might not necessarily address the diminishing economic opportunities as the crisis ramifications unfolds. The government is also accepting foreign aid to help address the vulnerable minorities present, such as Japan’s $3M UNICEF donation to Syrian children refugees displaced in Jordan. [18] Nevertheless, too much humanitarian aid could possibly continue to create systematic shifts in Jordan’s development priorities. This can potentially further decrease sovereignty and independence through an increase in national dependency on foreign sources of aid. [19]

Uncertainty about the future unravels hope. It exacerbates frustrations from the grassroots. Patience could be fraying thin among the youth – many of whom were already caught in the escalating web of unemployment, pre-coronavirus. Pre-pandemic, 1 in 5 were officially unemployed; however, given that more than half the workforce operates informally [20], this ratio could have been more drastic. Jordan has a large youth demographic – the median age of the country is 23 years old [21] – so this could have lasting implications for their livelihood, unprecedented national population behaviours, and fissure deep strains on the industrial structures of the nation.

The slowly increasing tension often translates into indifference about the future. It is a problem as it is linked to community marginalisation, economic hardship, collective suffering through unimproved living conditions, less efficient economies, lower education attainments and other unsustainable national paths.[22][23] Future national plans for economic and social recovery must tackle youth despondency. Just as morale was drummed up for the defensive plan against the coronavirus, optimism and proactivity should be highlighted via media effects. It is not just about financial inclusion efforts and community entrepreneurial initiatives. To be sustainable, effective strategic communication approaches can continue to be an asset in unifying a nation’s push towards hope, far after the troops are physically withdrawn.

The worrying prospect is that containing the health pandemic is the easy part. Managing the next maneuvers to progress as a nation will be the challenge. It will be harder to control the fallout as the restrictions ease and the national isolation ends in the upcoming weeks.

 

1. The Business Year. (2019). The Doctor Will See You Now. Retrieved from https://www.thebusinessyear.com/jordan-2019/the-doctor-will-see-you-now/focus

2. Younes, A. (2020). Jordan imposes state of emergency to curb coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/jordan-imposes-state-emergency-curb-coronavirus-pandemic-200317191104773.html

3. U.S. Embassy in Jordan. (2020). COVID-19 Information: Jordan Country-Specific Information. Retrieved from https://jo.usembassy.gov/covid-19-information/

4. The University of Oxford. (2020). Coronavirus Government Response Tracker. Retrieved from https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/research/research-projects/coronavirus-government-response-tracker

5. Younes, A. (2020). Jordan imposes state of emergency to curb coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/03/jordan-imposes-state-emergency-curb-coronavirus-pandemic-200317191104773.html

6. BBC. (2020). Coronavirus: Jordan eases indefinite curfew and allows shops to open. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-52020261

7. Agence France-Presse. (2020). Jordan becomes latest Mideast country to deploy drones in virus response. Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/20200405-jordan-becomes-latest-mideast-country-to-deploy-drones-in-virus-response

8. ABC News. (2020). The Middle East has struggled to contain the spread of coronavirus, but Jordan is an outlier. Retrieved from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-07/how-jordan-is-tackling-coronavirus/12188520

9. CNN. (2020). Jordan eases lockdown after total curfew leads to chaos. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2020/03/25/middleeast/jordan-lockdown-coronavirus-intl/index.html

10. Arraf, J. (2020). Jordan Keeps Coronavirus In Check With One Of The World’s Strictest Lockdowns. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/03/25/821349297/jordan-keeps-coronavirus-in-check-with-one-of-world-s-strictest-lockdowns

11. Shantyaei, S. (2020). Jordanian health minister on leading his country’s fight against Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/middle-east/20200428-jordanian-health-minister-on-leading-his-country-s-fight-against-covid-19

12. Luck. (2020). From healing hearts to stealing hearts: Jordan’s ‘Dr. Fauci’. Retrieved from https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2020/0415/From-healing-hearts-to-stealing-hearts-Jordan-s-Dr.-Fauci

13. Jordan Times. (2020). Jordan’s anti-virus measures prove ‘successful’ — JSF. http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/jordans-anti-virus-measures-prove-‘successful’-—-jsf

14. Al-Khalidi, S. (2020). Jordanian army guards cities ahead of curfew. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-jordan/jordanian-army-guards-cities-ahead-of-curfew-idINKBN2141FA 

15. Luck. (2020). From healing hearts to stealing hearts: Jordan’s ‘Dr. Fauci’. Retrieved from https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2020/0415/From-healing-hearts-to-stealing-hearts-Jordan-s-Dr.-Fauci

16. Roya News. (2020). Tenth Coronavirus Death in Jordan. Retrieved from https://en.royanews.tv/news/21396/Tenth-coronavirus-death-in-Jordan

17. Himmat Watan Fund. (2020). A Nation’s Effort. Retrieved from http://himmatwatan.jo

18. UNICEF. (2020). Government of Japan donates US$ 3 million to UNICEF Jordan’s COVID-19 children’s appeal. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/report/jordan/government-japan-donates-us-3-million-unicef-jordan-s-covid-19-children-s-appeal

19. Worstall, T. (2018). The basic problem with foreign aid. Retrieved from https://www.adamsmith.org/blog/the-basic-problem-with-foreign-aid

20. Al-Ajlouni, L. (2020). Could COVID-19 Push Jordan to the Edge? Retrieved from https://www.mei.edu/publications/could-covid-19-push-jordan-edge

21. Jordan Times. (2020). Jordan’s anti-virus measures prove ‘successful’ — JSF. http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/jordans-anti-virus-measures-prove-‘successful’-—-jsf

22. Alm, S. (2011). The worried, the competitive and the indifferent—Approaches to the future in youth, their structural roots and outcomes in adult life. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2011.01.012

23. Schwab, K. (1995). Overcoming Indifference: 10 Key Challenges in Today’s Changing World. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3gQRMG8

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