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Mansaf loans signal depth of Jordan’s debt problem, say observers

By Rayya Al Muheisen - Mar 30,2023 - Last updated at Mar 30,2023

A financing service provider’s advertisement to give out interest free loans for mansaf, Jordan’s national dish, has stirred online controversy (File photo)

 

AMMAN — A financing service provider’s advertisement to give out interest-free loans for mansaf, Jordan’s national dish, has stirred online controversy over the offer’s implications for Jordanian culture, especially during the month of Ramadan.

The advertisement in question offered a three-month, interest free loan to be used for mansaf, in cooperation with a local dine-in and catering restaurant. The company also offers loans for olive oil, hospital operations, furniture and other uses.

An official working for the company told The Jordan Times that the company had received many requests to give out loans for gatherings that require serving food, the source also added that the company offers loans for sacrifical goats and sheep during Eid Al Adha. 

It's worth noting than during Ramadan, the fasting month for Muslims, family gatherings are very common. Jordanian tradition requires each family to invite their relatives for iftar — the fast-breaking meal at sunset — during Ramadan. Families take turns in this tradition, which sometimes poses a financial burden on low-income households, forcing many to take out loans or borrow money to afford a feast for their friends and relatives. 

“Our company is a micro-financing company; we give out loans for all sorts of things,” the source added. 

However, the majority of online commentary expressed disappointment, with social media users stating that generally, financing companies take advantage of peoples’ needs. Another camp of online sentiments claimed that sticking with the tradition of inviting guests over for iftar must become more flexible within the culture due to the financial burden it poses for some families. 

Meanwhile, many social media users mocked the advertisement, and called asking for “barbeque loans” instead.

Economist Hosam Ayesh told The Jordan Times that offering such a service is indicative of the poor economic conditions that the majority of Jordanians are facing. 

“People are in trouble. People can't balance their spending with their income. When it comes to taking out loans for food — which is a necessity — this indicates that the vast majority of Jordanians are struggling to make ends meet,” Ayesh said. 

Noting mansaf’s status as the traditional national dish of the country, Ayesh said, “when you reach a point where Jordanians have to take out loans to afford mansaf, it indicates that things are headed in a negative direction”. 

“Jordanians are well known for their hospitality and generosity. Companies and retailers, on the other hand, take advantage of people’s needs,” Mousa Alebessat posted on Facebook. 

Others, such as Naser Ayasrah, voiced a different opinion, posting that the initiative is intended to ease financial burdens and presents a positive alternative to begging or borrowing money. 

Financing services providers “drag” people to take out loans and then sue them for their inability to pay-off, said Jordanian Ahmad Hallaj.  “This is why you find the majority of Jordanians drowning in debt,” he added. 

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