The Beatles were right. Money can’t buy you love. Or regional hegemony, as the Saudis are finding out with Jordan. But will King Abdullah get by with a little help from his friends?
The Qatar crisis is backfiring on Saudi Arabia on a scale that most pundits—even those who predicted blowback—could not have foreseen. Not only is Saudi Arabia looking more of a rogue player in the region, but Qatar is doing the very thing which has kept the Saudis up late at night for years: growing bigger and more autonomous.
But Riyadh only has itself to blame for Qatar’s new independent zeal, one which has left this tiny country with a certain elan in the Middle East as a champion of the underdog and one which wants change, while, by contrast, Saudi Arabia and its quartet are seen as using the anti-Qatar ruse as a cover to stifle grassroots reform in their own countries.
Granted, much of the ‘Qatar has won’ press coverage we have seen in recent days comically comes from two of Qatar’s London-based English language news websites and Al Jazeera itself. But in reality Qatar won by keeping cool and not doing much, whereby Saudi Arabia’s billion dollar PR campaign mainly made it look churlish and disingenuous.
Saudi Arabia’s list of demands were never meant to be taken seriously by Qatar. Riyadh had already decided that Qatar’s own foreign policy aspirations had to be choked, but the move to make it a vassal state failed. It also had a lot to do with money. Money, for the Saudis, bought off-the-shelf hegemony for them from the GCC countries and stoked the anti-Iran campaign and even from others further afield.
But money couldn’t buy Qatar’s fake reverence and get it to sign up to the theatre of allusion around a fabricated crisis of Iran’s so-called threat to the region.
And money, again, is proving to be the problem with Jordan.
Like Qatar, the Hashemite Kingdom does not fit comfortably into Saudi Arabia’s regional policies. Jordan doesn’t see Iran as a threat, questions Trump’s gambits in the region and takes a cautious view of Israel building new bridges with Gulf states. The relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem has been a sticking point.
Jordan also considers the quartet’s foibles in the Middle East to be a greater threat to stability than most reported woes.
Although unlike Qatar, it doesn’t see Iran as an ally in the near future. It also has opted for a more mature, intelligent approach to international relations, which avoids the binary simplicity of the Saudis’ model, although it is fair to say that Jordan is certainly a pro-Western satellite. And yet, Jordan sits rather awkwardly in the peninsula as it too has its own ideas about autonomy and the ‘third way’ which Qatar, Turkey and Morocco have signed up to.
King Abdullah, one of the smartest, most articulate and savvy leaders in the Middle East, has the attention of the entire Arab world now, as few leaders in the region doubt that Jordan’s economic problems are mostly about Saudi Arabia not continuing with its aid package, which previously was almost 4 billion dollars and kept the economy from tilting into a crisis.
In many ways, Jordan, is even more important to Saudi Arabia than Qatar is as it could well be a deal breaker for the Saudis.
Get the Jordanian king on board and Riyadh and the GCC could get the vital boost it needs in the Arab world, which regards it with some disdain; get it wrong, and we could be witnessing the break-up of the GCC itself, an organisation increasingly beginning to look out of date and ineffective since the Qatar fiasco began just over a year ago.
Yet Jordan, like Morocco, have both been pencilled in since 2011 to be GCC members and there’s little sign that the Saudi carrot, or stick, will reign them in as both know that the Saudis offer of cash aid is not our of generosity, but rather one that comes with a very high price.
In the case of Jordan, the Saudis view it as neighbouring country with a high number of disgruntled Palestinians: potentially unstable.
Unlike Morocco, the Jordanian king does not enjoy wide scale, absolute support from his people. The demonstrations, for example, which he wisely allows to flourish, are given the tacit support of the military, which is a signal for Abdullah in itself that he may well be facing an Egypt style Arab Spring which brought about Morsi in 2012.
Jordanians are angry that the price of daily commodities are increasing but salaries are not. If Saudi Arabia cannot continue with its vital aid package to control inflation—with no strings attached—it will be to the detriment of Saudis though and not King Abdullah.
Jordan paid heavily for being allies to both Qatar and Saudi Arabia – in the end not receiving any help from either, leaving it now to look for new partners in the region who can subsidise its ailing economy.
Turkey and Qatar (still) are obvious neighbours who could lend a hand. Until now, Iran was off the table. Perhaps not for much longer though, which may explain the endearing handshake between King Abdullah and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Istanbul during the recent Islamic summit. That handshake must be spooking Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
Perhaps it’s not too late for the Saudis to make that call to Abdullah and keep Jordan at least within its fold, if not under its omnipotent hegemony.
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