Jordan Bracing for More Syria Spillover

By David Schenker
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For example, the Zaatari camp reportedly consumes 1,400 cubic meters of water per day -- a very scarce resource in the kingdom. Per capita, refugee consumption is less than a third of what average Jordanian citizens use, but it is still having an impact. Last summer, residents of nearby Mafraq reported that local drinking water was unavailable for a month. The many Syrians residing in Jordan's cities are using significant amounts of water as well. They are also renting apartments at a pace that has apparently spurred rate increases in Amman and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the kingdom's exports to Syria have been drastically affected by the collapse of the Syrian economy; according to the Jordanian daily al-Arab al-Yawm, they fell nearly 20 percent in the first nine months of 2012 compared to 2011. In addition, insecurity on the roads has forced Jordan to use Iraqi routes as an inconvenient and expensive alternative for sending goods to Europe and Turkey. On the brighter side, however, Gulf tourists -- spooked by violence in Syria and kidnappings in Lebanon -- have gravitated to Jordan, partly buoying the moribund hospitality industry.

Jordan is appealing to the international community for $1 billion to cover its expenditures to date, including $670 million toward the construction of the new refugee camp. Yet given the financial situation in Europe and the general international malaise toward the Syria crisis, assistance to the kingdom is unlikely to come even remotely close to these amounts.

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Apart from its direct consequences, the Syria crisis has exacerbated extant tensions in Jordan, including dissatisfaction with the economy and popular foment focused on corruption and the slow pace of political reform. In fact, Jordanians are so preoccupied with domestic concerns that Syria was essentially a non-issue in last month's parliamentary elections. Such concerns have sparked frequent demonstrations since 2011, but the number of protestors has been rather limited thus far, primarily due to the government's restrained response, the country's largely conservative politics, the limited appeal of local Islamists, and the fact that most Palestinians -- fearing backlash -- have chosen not to participate in the rallies.

Paradoxically, the massive violence that followed Syria's initially peaceful uprising has served as a cautionary tale for the Jordanian public, seemingly deterring larger numbers of disaffected citizens from mobilizing in protest. This dynamic will likely continue for the foreseeable future, buying precious time for the embattled monarchy to tackle corruption and the economic crisis. When Assad falls, however, the regional landscape will shift dramatically, and the looming threats to Jordan -- mass refugee flows, terrorism, and, perhaps, unsecure Syrian chemical weapons -- will almost certainly become more immediate.

 

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David Schenker is the Aufzien fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. He was in Jordan in January monitoring parliamentary elections with the delegation fielded by the International Republican Institute.

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