Jordan has been conspicuously absent from the list of Arab states that have been
buffeted by uprisings during the last two years.
explanation is that monarchical regimes from Morocco to the Gulf states
(excepting Bahrain) possess an important extra degree of legitimacy and
political capital, and have thus been better equipped than other Arab states to
manage tensions and avoid major upheavals.
However, no Arab monarchy,
least of all resource-poor and geopolitically vulnerable Jordan, is
The eruption of violent protests across the country mid-November,
in protest against an announced cut in fuel subsidies, served as a reminder of
Particularly noteworthy was the fact that some of the
demonstrators openly called for the overthrow of the monarchy.
that there were clashes with the security forces in the southern cities of
Tafilah, Ma’an and Dhiban, traditional bastions of support for the Hashemite
monarchy, confirmed anew that the intimate relationship of East Bank Bedouin
with the late King Hussein, which bordered on reverence, has not carried over to
his son, King Abdallah II.
Like the rest of the non-oil producing Arab
countries, economic troubles are central to Jordan’s malaise, which the existing
political framework is incapable of meaningfully addressing. Nearly a decade of
violence in neighboring Iraq has had a serious negative impact on Jordanian
exports, while the massive influx of welloff Iraqi refugees has driven housing
prices in Amman beyond the means of most Jordanians.
The chaos in Syria
has caused further losses for Jordanian businesses, and 150,000 Syrian refugees
constitute a new burden on the authorities. Meanwhile, tourism revenues have
been weakened by the recession in Europe, while gas supply interruptions from
Egypt and the rising cost of imported oil placed new pressures on the Jordanian
Moreover, the underlying structural factors are sobering and not
essentially different than in most other Arab states.
unemployment rate is more than 12 percent, and for those in the 15-24 age
bracket almost 30 percent, and there is no prospect for lowering it. Although
Gulf monarchies have provided significant aid and pledged even more, the $2
billion loan contracted with the IMF requires major budgetary reform, including
the reduction of fuel and subsidies, which prompted the latest
The cutting of subsidies on basic goods has always been a
dangerous step for authoritarian Arab regimes that lack the underlying
legitimacy, which a genuinely democratic political system
Abdallah has long presented himself as a champion of reform,
one which would revitalize the political system without undermining monarchical
authority, and enable the government to tackle the country’s structural economic
But this is easier said than done. Weekly protests during the
last year led by the opposition Islamic Action Front (Muslim Brotherhood) have
called for a genuine transfer of authority from the palace directed governmental
apparatus to an elected parliament and prime minister.
Changes in the
electoral system in advance of the upcoming January 2013 elections for
parliament were heavily weighted against IAF candidates, causing the IAF to
declare a boycott of the elections.
But given the upward trend for
Islamic movements in competitive elections across the region during the last two
years, Jordanian authorities are keen not to allow too much political space for
the IAF. Moreover, genuine reform measures, including a sustained tackling of
corruption, would upset some of the regime’s elite loyalists, whom Abdallah must
avoid hurting as he now needs them more than ever. Following the latest
disturbances, the IAF has called for the establishment of a “national salvation
government,” in which it would expect to play a prominent role.
not to say that Jordan is on the verge of upheaval. Gulf monarchies, Western
powers and Israel all have a keen interest in preserving this fragile island of
stability between the Fertile Crescent and the Arabian Peninsula. And most
Jordanians, when they look at what is happening around them, are aware that
things could be a lot worse.
But successfully steering Jordan through the
coming phase will require considerable finesse, as well as preventing the myriad
conflicts on its borders from spilling over into the kingdom.
The author is
the Marcia Israel Principal Research Fellow at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle
Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University.