Saudi Arabia has been one of the two biggest donors to Jordan in the last few decades—the other being the United States. Over the years, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have often taken similar positions on major regional and international affairs, including relations with the United States, efforts on an Arab-Israeli settlement, and opposition to radical Arab regimes. That does not mean that the two countries’ positions have always been identical. At times, Jordan has pursued internal reform policies, including allowing peaceful Islamist political parties to operate, which were presumed not to gain Saudi approval. And there have been differences on regional issues as well that have led to suspensions in Saudi aid, for example during the 1990s when Saudi and Gulf aid stopped because of Jordan’s refusal to support a military intervention after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Once the division of the 1990s was healed, Saudi and Saudi-led aid to Jordan steadily increased over two decades. In 2011, the Saudis led a Gulf effort along with Kuwait and the UAE to provide $5 billion in aid to Jordan in an effort to help it deal with the aftermath of countrywide protests. In fact, the Gulf Cooperation Council went so far as to invite Jordan and Morocco to join in May 2011, but they did not join in the end.
The Jordan-Saudi relationship began to decline after 2014, which coincided with a sharp downturn in oil prices as well as the rise of a new Saudi leadership. It is largely assumed, although not publicly stated, that the new Saudi leadership expected Jordan to adhere to Saudi positions on issues including the civil wars in Syria and Yemen, the blockade against Qatar, and Iran’s rising power, as well as on outlawing the Muslim Brotherhood. For various reasons, Jordan has adopted positions on these issues that are sympathetic, but not identical, to Saudi views.
The Saudis have not provided any direct bilateral assistance to Jordan since 2014. A combined Gulf package of $2.5 billion from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE after a new wave of protests in Jordan in 2018 largely took the form of loan guarantees and deposits in the Central Bank of Jordan, with little if any direct budget support. Meanwhile, the UAE and Qatar have extended smaller bilateral packages.
For many reasons, the era of huge Saudi aid to Jordan and their strong alliance is over—although the two countries will probably try to avoid any major public rift. Meanwhile, Jordan has become far more dependent on aid from other sources, especially the United States ($1.275 billion annually). Jordan will try to protect its expatriate population of more than 400,000 workers in Saudi Arabia, who have been bringing in more than half of the estimated $3 billion in remittances each year. But the drop in oil prices and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will likely affect the existing numbers of workers as well as the Gulf’s ability to absorb more workers.
In sum, Jordan is already experiencing the fallout of the oil era’s end and the region’s need to transition to a new and more productive economic model.