The Middle East Channel
Jordanian reform: a closer look
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan announced yesterday that Parliamentary elections will be held on November 9. The elections, to replace a Parliament dissolved by royal decree last November 23, will be conducted under a new election law which falls short of the expectations of many Jordanian reformists. With a date for elections for a new Parliament ...
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan announced yesterday that Parliamentary elections will be held on November 9. The elections, to replace a Parliament dissolved by royal decree last November 23, will be conducted under a new election law which falls short of the expectations of many Jordanian reformists. With a date for elections for a new Parliament set, two new essays probe the Jordanian experience and the significance of recent political developments. Morten Valbjorn of Aarhus University argues that Jordan, which recently fell to "not free" in the Freedom House rankings, should be seen not as a case of failed democratization but of reasonably successful authoritarian liberalization. Assaf David of the Hebrew University of Jeruslaem explores an extremely unusual public political intervention by retired Jordanian military veterans and the fissures it exposes in the underpinnings of the Hashemite regime.
The European Union has just released a positive ‘ENP Country Progress Report’ on Jordan, praising the Kingdom’s substantial progress in areas related to political reform, governance, and transparency. According to the EU Ambassador to Jordan Patrick Renault, Jordan is on the right track. The EU is far from alone in presenting the small Hashemite Kingdom as one of the few success-stories in the recent years’ efforts in democracy-promotion in the Middle East. In a discussion about democratic reforms in the so-called ‘moderate Sunni Arab’ states Condoleezza Rice stated that "Jordan is making really great strides in its political evolution." When Barack Obama had a one-to-one dinner with King Abdallah II during his presidential campaign, the story goes that he was so impressed with the visionary and reform-eager young Hashemite ruler that he told him: "Your Majesty, we need to clone you."
But how then to explain that the most recent annual report from Freedom House actually downgraded Jordan to ‘not free’? Indeed, by some measures Jordan is today less free than in 1989, when its much-claimed democratic transition began. This does not, however, mean that Jordan’s ‘transition to nowhere’ should be framed as an example of ‘failure of democratization.’ Instead, Jordan should be seen as an example of a ‘liberalizing autocracy’: always appearing as being in the midst of a promising reform process, but still always an autocracy. Those in real power are not accountable to their citizens and they do not aim to give up or even share their power. They are only following Lampedusa’s old advice that "if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change." Such liberalizing autocracies should not be perceived as being a transitory state on the road toward democracy, but rather as a distinct and quite resilient kind of authoritarian regime. READ MORE.
The Revolt of Jordan’s Millitary Veterans by Assaf David
Last month, Jordan’s "National Committee of Military Veterans" published a rare petition directly attacking the monarchy and the Palestinian population of the kingdom. This petition should not be dismissed lightly. This is the first time that an organization representing tens of thousands of military veterans has expressed controversial political views, particularly on such extremely sensitive issues. Crafted by a higher committee of 60 military veterans (including some ex-generals), the document expresses the concern about what they see as moves to solve the Palestinian problem at the expense of Jordan through external pressures to settle the refugees in the kingdom, with the cooperation of "treacherous" elite members.
The permanent settlement of most of the Palestinian refugees in Jordan, a likely scenario in any potential outline of Israeli-Palestinian peace, is a great source of trouble for the regime, as it touches the very heart of its relationship with its Transjordanian backbone. A Wall Street Journal reporter heard from King Abdullah last April that Jordan could not annex the West Bank population since, among other things, "we don’t have the water to be able to do so." This phrase was too sensitive to be included in the interview’s final version: the Jordanian public opinion is not willing to see a conditioned refusal to this Armageddon scenario. While the challenge posed by the "veterans’ uprising" eventually faded, the incident is an ominous sign for the coming phase in regional politics. READ MORE.