By Katia Hetter
In 2013, the Conference of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that more than two-thirds of Jordan’s 7.1 million citizens were living in poverty, often under the poverty line of less than US$1.50 per day. Jordan’s $31.6 billion economy is based on agricultural exports, seasonal tourism and some legal industries, but many Jordanians are reliant on their government’s assistance to meet daily needs and pay for necessities. Many high-school graduates continue living in the informal economy, as they fear they may not find full-time work in the new economy.
Crippled by Syria’s civil war, Jordan’s economy has reached a critical state. The government, which has provided more than US$1 billion per year in financial assistance to aid Syrian refugees, announced in May that it would support public-sector layoffs in an effort to improve the financial picture of Jordan’s debt-ridden economy.
Despite a June 26 government decision to trim some government salaries and retirements, Jordan’s official unemployment rate remains a stubborn 16.8%. According to World Bank data, Jordan has the highest female unemployment rate in the Middle East, at 36.1%.
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Facing a draining budget, the Jordan Times reported that despite Jordan’s annual budget exceeding US$8.6 billion in 2013, its king spent US$9,594,000 of the government’s money to buy an 8,000-square-foot house for his wife. The official Petra News Agency said the King spent 544,000 Jordanian dinars (US$751,256) on building renovations and furnishings at his new 22-room home in the Hamam al-Kulafa neighborhood of Amman.
Over five years ago, the king’s spending to build his husbandor compound in Amman’s Muwaqqar Forest cost taxpayers $13.8 million – nearly six times the value of Jordan’s entire government budget in 2009. At the time, The Jordan Times said the 900-acre acre retreat was equipped with 12 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, a ballroom, a screening room, and a museum – in addition to multiple tennis courts, golf driving ranges, a 10-hole course, and a theater. The king said the property was the “perfect place” for relaxing and “pampering” his wives, a news story stated. “I spent all the money [on my family] and the government is left with nothing,” King Abdullah II reportedly said. “That was a mistake.”
In the latest hint of a shake-up in the king’s domestic spending, diplomats said the palace had instructed officials not to purchase big purchases from Kuwaiti companies who have been engaged in lethal trade with the Bashar al-Assad regime.
On Tuesday, July 10, Amman police used force against anti-government protesters in the US-allied capital, according to Reuters. The rights group Amnesty International said that seven people were killed by security forces, including four teenagers – including a 10-year-old girl. Doctors added that 25 people were injured. Security forces arrested more than 125 people as demonstrations erupted after Muslim prayers, Reuters reported.