Monday, May 9, 2011

Weekly Hurriyet Column: Impressions from Jordan

Below is my Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review column for this week (it is actually last, as I am posting this exactly a week late, but I am sticking to its original date for archiving purposes), which you can also read at the Daily News website.

I just came returned from Jordan after a two-week consulting gig. Among other goodies, like lots of hummus and felafel, and of course Petra, I ended up with two columns, one on my impressions on Jordan, the other on an informal comparison on the Turkish & Jordanian economies. So without further chit-chat, here is the first column:


I was rather surprised to see a deserted city when I landed in Amman on Tuesday night for a two-week consulting gig on the Jordanian economy, banking sector and capital markets.

My curiosity was satisfied soon enough: I found my hotel’s bar packed, with people glued to the screen watching the Barcelona-Real Madrid game. I learned from an analyst I was meeting with the next day that both teams are very popular in Jordan, and that as many as 1 million people (from a population of 6.5 million) may have watched the game on Tuesday.

The abundance of players with El Clasico experience on its squad may explain Beşiktaş’s popularity in Jordan over its two Istanbul rivals, who have their own version of El Clasico. But two Turks are more popular in the JK than any member of my beloved team.

Everyone here knows the actor Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ, although he is often mentioned as the “blond guy,” as his name is a challenge for Jordanians. The Turkish soap operas, mosalsas as they are called here, that made him famous are a big hit in Jordan as in many other countries in the region, and I was told that Jordanians watched the closing episode of Aşk-ı Memnu with teary eyes Wednesday night.

But even Tatlıtuğ’s popularity is dwarfed by that of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The first thing taxi drivers do when they learn I am Turkish is to mention his name with a big smile. I receive a much more sincere “Wa alaykum salam” to my “As-Salamu Alaykum’s” (I have used the phrase more in the past week than the rest of my life) when it is known beforehand that I am Turkish.

It seems the “one minute” and “flotilla” incidents have won the hearts of Jordanians as in the rest of the Arab world. Although I had dismissed both as cheap politics at the time, I have to admit I do like the free respect they have brought me here. Yes, I am such a spineless opportunist!

Joking aside, seeing the teary-eyed refugees looking at the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee from the lookout point at the Decapolis city Gadara/Umm Qais is worth reading a dozen books on the Palestinian problem. But I am still not convinced that Erdoğan’s outbursts have brought us closer to a solution at all.

However, even the analysts, economists and executives I have been speaking to, all with fancy U.S. degrees and flawless English, think highly of Erdoğan. They may start with disclaimers such as, “I don’t know your political inclinations, but…” showing that they are well aware of the controversies surrounding him and his policies. Still they praise his zeal to make Turkey a regional leader by increasing its political and economic power in the Middle East.

That economic power is apparent in the statistics: According to the Central Bank of Jordan’s Monthly Statistical Bulletin, Jordan’s imports from Turkey increased from around $450 million in 2009 to $600 million last year. The 28 percent yearly increase puts Turkey at the number six spot, but the countries whose exports to Jordan have increased more than Turkey’s all have much smaller absolute figures. In fact, Turkey is now the seventh-largest exporter to Jordan, and I am not sure the mosalsas are in these official statistics.

But even casual observation reveals a strong Turkish business presence: For one thing, hearing Turkish regularly at my hotel speaks volumes. Many Jordanian ready-wear apparel companies have clothing manufactured in Turkey, to which they affix their own labels. Sarar’s suits are highly regarded by professionals, although the $200-$300 price tag is deemed a bit expensive. Supermarkets are full of Turkish products, mainly by the Ülker group. There are also several construction companies in Jordan.

As for Jordan’s economy, that’s for next week.

* Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at http://emredeliveli.blogspot.com.

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