Almost a week after the national legislative elections and the killing of journalist Nahed Hattar took place, the Jordanian government provokes the public by releasing an official announcement about its secret deal to import Israeli gas.
Jordan’s government-owned National Electric Power Co. (NEPCO) officially signed an agreement with Noble Energy, a US firm that owns 39% of the Leviathan natural gas field in Israel. According to NEPCO, this cheap deal would achieve a surplus for the company, and would later provide 40% of Jordan’s electricity-generating needs.
The agreement happened a week after the Lower House elections, and more than a month before the new Parliament is scheduled to summon. In a way, Jordan is utilizing the temporary absence of the public’s only legitimately democratic method of expressing their voices, the Parliament.
Last time the deal was discussed in 2014, the Lower House issued an overwhelming vote to reject the deal. The sudden announcement of the deal last week implies that the government has been renegotiating the deal in secret, which outrages the public.
Opponents have been raged in response to the deal, and opposition grew popular amongst the Jordanian public, half of which is of Palestinian origin. It reminded the government that the majority of Jordanians continues to oppose the 1994 Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty.
The gas deal is a commercial deal that could easily turn into a political weapon. Already, the government has been criticized of moving towards normalization with the “Zionist enemy”, as some political parties and individuals expressed. Others claim that the deal demonstrates Jordan’s reliance on the ‘Zionist entity’. The loudest voices thus far are fuming at the government’s choice of spending $10 billion that will support the Israeli occupation. Simply put, Jordanians refuse to pay for Israel to provide them with electricity.
This is the first time that the majority of Jordanians unite against the government since they last did in Jordan’s Arab Spring demonstrations in 2011. This time, they joined protests all over the kingdom following Friday prayers on September 30. The demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, with a few clashes with riot police around Palestinian refugee camps.
Jordanian’s opposition has gotten creative in the aftermath of the gas deal. People in Jordan, houses and restaurants included, turned off their lights from 9:00PM till 10:00PM on Sunday, October 2. A number of newly elected Parliamentarians have threatened to resign in protest of the deal.
Mohammad Momani, Jordanian Minister of Media Affairs, made a statement on Jordan state television that the deal “does not create dependency on Israel,” further adding that it would rather “cut $600 million from Jordan’s energy bill.” He dismissed any ridiculous claims that the deal supports the occupation, as Jordan’s stance on the occupation is crystal-clear. The Jordan-Israel gas deal is based on Jordan’s goal of diversifying its energy sources, given that the kingdom imports about 96% of its energy needs. Jordan is currently investing in other forms of energy, including a nuclear reactor in the eastern desert, wind and solar energy, as well as its shale oil reserve.
Criticism of the government is still on the rise. The public is not expected to shut down protesting easily anytime soon. The government is not expected to turn down this cemented deal, either.
Whether or not Jordan chose the wrong time to sign the deal remains debatable; streets in Amman are still fuming with debates over the death of Nahed Hattar, corrupted legislative elections, and vague laws. For the government, though, this is just the perfect time to sign the deal when the parliament is not in session.
The fact that the status of the deal will not change based on public opinion serves to remind us of how autonomous Jordan really is. The government still takes decisions in closed rooms. It raises the question of how democratic Jordan really is.