It was only a matter of time before the Arab Spring would come to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Protests in Amman, among other Jordanian cities calling for political reform, which started in March 2011, have grown in size, as have violent clashes, although state repression has remained mild by Middle Eastern standards. Yet the continued lack of real political reform, combined with growing instability in neighbouring Syria, is likely to fuel further discontent.
This month, King Abdullah II dissolved Parliament and appointed a new Prime Minister, responding to mounting protests demanding that he relinquish some of his power. The foremost complaint in Jordan, however, is that of ongoing state corruption, and there has been much speculation in the press that a number of unresolved cases may lead all the way back to the Royal Court, such as the large amount of state land and property that was granted to the Court, by the government, back in 2002 for social development and charitable purposes.
Trans-Jordanians, mainly represented by influential tribes, have traditionally been very loyal to the King, but even they have been calling for more administrative and legislative efforts to combat poverty, and to reduce the monarch’s power over Parliament. For instance, members of the influential Ajarmeh-clan issued a statement in June 2012 calling for the adoption of a constitutional monarchy and for the limiting of the King’s constitutional powers.
The majority of Palestinian-Jordanians, on the other hand, have focused their efforts on changes to the electoral law, which, they hope, will ensure that they are more fairly represented in Parliament and the state bureaucracy. The growing economic crisis has also led to calls for a government measure to tackle unemployment, especially amongst the country’s youth. Scholar Labib Qamhawi calls the government position against Palestinian-Jordanians as “exclusivist and triggered by haphazard policies”.
Whilst King Abdullah has publicly declared his support for political reform in Jordan, following the onset of Arab uprisings in the region, critics have thus far claimed that the enacted reforms are more cosmetic than substantive. Yet the difference in demands from the Trans-Jordanian and Palestinian-Jordanian protestors poses a challenge for the Royal Court, as it struggles to find a compromise that will satisfy both communities. Political unrest threatens to upset the delicate balance that the Amman have been able to maintain since the Civil War in 1970.
Political Agitation in Jordan
- The Arab Spring protests throughout the region, in particular the unfolding crisis in neighboring Syria, have led to mounting protests from the opposition in Jordan;
- These protests are increasing in size and are mainly focussed on economic decline and corruption, and further on reducing the powers of King Abdullah II in favour of a more administrative and legislative system of government;
- On 11th October, the King dissolved Parliament for the fifth time in two years, and appointed a new Prime Minister;
- The King has called for new elections to take place in Jordan towards the end of 2012, but he has repeatedly reacted to domestic political pressure; however, there is much speculation that the election will not take place until 2013 owing to a low registration of voters;
- Whilst the King has declared his support for political reforms in Jordan, the opposition has alleged that all the initiatives instituted, thus far, are cosmetic and not substantive;
- Chief amongst these is the appointment of Abdul-Elah al-Khatib as the President of the Independent Elections Commission, which has frustrated and angered opposition groups, as his appointment is viewed as an attempt by the Royal Court to influence or control the election process and outcome;
- The new electoral law provides increased representation for candidates in the larger urban areas of Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid, where the vast majority of Palestinian-Jordanian and Muslim Brotherhood voters are based at the expense of regime-loyal rural areas, which tend to favour Trans-Jordanian tribes
- The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), which in early October organised a protest in Amman that gathered as many as 40,000 people, has announced that it will boycott the elections in an attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the entire reform-oriented political process in the Kingdom;
- The IAF views Palestinian-Jordanians as citizens with full political rights in Jordan;
- The IAF is attempting to create an alliance with the National Front for Reform, which is led by Ahmad Ubaydat, an independent figure and the former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, who is a leading critic of the regime’s domestic, neoliberal policies, as well as the King’s executive powers.
- Emboldened by the Arab Spring, tribal leaders who have historically been close to the Royal Court have come together to form the Coordination Committee for Popular Movements, a pan-tribal association (a coalition of the largest seven tribes) which has been responsible for organising various protests and demonstrations in rural areas, such as Tafileh, Karak, Ma’an, and Shobak;
- The tribes have called for the separation of powers in the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and for wider representation from Jordan’s rural districts;
- They also consider Palestinian-Jordanians as ‘brothers living in Jordan temporally’ and believe that the Kingdom should offer them full support to live with dignity until they return to Palestine.
- Despite these challenges, Jordan can still become a successful case of peaceful transition towards democracy in the Middle East, similar to the Moroccan monarchy’s reduction of the authority of the King and its expansion of parliamentary powers;
- The US, in 2011, have provided Jordan with around $840 million in aid, and promised around $474 million for 2012. The European Union, meanwhile, has promised $4 billion for the coming three years;
- Although the US, in particular, should exercise caution in publicly praising the Royal Court’s reform efforts, the West can still encourage liberalisation in Jordan by pegging its sizeable aid packages to the court’s progress in instituting substantive electoral and parliamentary reforms.