After the bombings

The chief challenge facing Jordan's King Abdullah will be political and economic reform, not security.

By DAOUD KUTTAB
November 20, 2005 22:47

 
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Contrary to impulsive thinking, the real challenge to Jordan following the triple hotel bombing is not a security one. Blessed with a strong internal security apparatus, and a relatively homogeneous population, Jordan's King Abdullah II has few strategic security issues to worry about. His real challenge is a socioeconomic one. True, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan received a painful dose of violence on November 9, when pro-al-Qaida Iraqi bombers detonated themselves in three hotels killing 58 and injuring over 100. But for the young Jordanian monarch the real challenge is whether or not this incident will sway him away from the political, social and economic reform process that has been recently set in motion. The key instrument of this reform is the National Agenda process that was set to be made public the week the Iraqi bombers succeeded in disturbing the kingdom's tranquility. Until those attacks, Jordan had a remarkable success at maintaining security, considering that it lives in a very violent and turbulent neighborhood. Many credit the country's tough and highly professional general security directorate with having miraculously kept the country safe through the two Palestinian intifadas to the west, and the three wars in Iraq to the east. Yet effective as the security services have been, it is clear now that it is not enough to depend on the software of intelligence. Shortly after the bombings Jordan accepted the inevitable and placed metal detectors and other hardware assets at the entrance to major hotels, shopping centers, government and public locations. The internal fiber of the country is also quite well protected. The fact that the Jordanian-born Zarqawi had to depend on Iraqis coming from Iraqi to carry out the attack is proof that he has been unsuccessful in recruiting within Jordan. Furthermore, the strong public reaction to the bombings shows that the home front is quite intact. Political groups from right to left, from Islamists to secularists all publicly condemned the attack in a clear sign of national unity. But while this initial public support reflects a unified national front, there is no telling how strong and reliable this support will be. POLITICALLY, JORDAN has a lot of reform left to do. The governing ethos of the kingdom has been based on the support of the major tribal families. Using a voting system that largely favors this tribal minority the kingdom has ensured loyalty and support to the successive Hashemite monarchs, but has not instituted a true representative democracy. Political parties have been kept weak and freedoms kept in check by a strong security apparatus made up largely of the same loyal tribal families. This was a successful formula in the 1950s and '60s but it is hardly a potent arrangement for a modern state with a young educated population. The economic situation, while slightly improving under the reign of Abdullah, is still very fragile. Poverty and unemployment are still rampant especially in the areas outside the country's major cities. Socially a culture of dependency, based on the government providing easy desk jobs (especially for east bank Jordanians), is still a major cause for worry. And as the country's huge youth population enters the job market social problems will make the bombings seem like a picnic. While this oil-less desert kingdom's strength is its rather educated human resources it is suffering from an overblown public sector and outdated economic priorities. Take agriculture. This water-deficient country has a huge agriculture sector depleting the country's water resources to produce cheaply-priced products that keep the farmers forever poor and dependent on the central government for public services. A Jordanian team led by Deputy Prime Minister Marwan Muasher has been tackling many of these political, social and economic reforms and is expected to present its national agenda to the king any day now. Among other things this document seeks to set the country's reform agenda for the next 10 years. The expected plan will include a call for a major reform of the political process in favor of a more representative government, an overhaul of media policies toward genuine freedom of expression, and a road map for improving the country's economic state. It will lay out measurable goals with a schedule for their achievement. Early leaks of the plan evoked mixed reactions, with many groups who have benefited from the current policies voicing angry opposition. King Abdullah II has a big responsibility on his shoulders following the recent bombings. While his short-term concerns will certainly focus on how to protect the country and its people, he must use the tremendous public support he has received to take on the long-term reform challenges the National Agenda attempts to tackle. This will be the best gift he can give Jordanians, and it will be the most appropriate response to those choosing death over life. The writer is a Palestinian journalist and director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al-Quds University in Ramallah.

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